LI E> RAR.Y
U N IVE.RSITY
The person charging this material is re-
sponsible for Its return to the library from
which It was withdrawn on or before the
Latest Date stamped below.
Theff, mutilation, and underlining of books are reasons
To renew <a|| Telephone Center, 333-8400
UNIV»SITy OF lulNOIS UBRARV AT URBANA-CHAMPA.GN
MARY ELIZABETH CHRISTIE
IN THREE VOLUMES
STRAHAN AND COMPANY LIMITED
34, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
All rir/hts reserved.
Hazell, Watson, atid Viriey, Prjntevs, London and Aylesbury.
* There's something tells me (but it is not love) I would
not lose you.'
FTEE all, the ride to Brynllwyd
might have been deferred to a
day when Cassandra considered
herself fi*ee ; for Heme's visit lengthened
itself out far beyond its intended term,
and he stayed at Ardgwen till the red
and gold had faded from the landscape
and November gloom lay heavy in the
valley. And every day he grew more
intimate with the family and more
doubtful of the wisdom of upsetting a
social system among the results of
which such pleasant households as this
VOL. II. 1
2 LADY LAURA.
were to be numbered. And he was
liked as much as he liked. Lord St.
Asaph found him a congenial companion,
and Lady St. Asaph was grateful to him
for lightening her husband's depression.
Lady Sarah struck up quite a warm
friendship with him, and before she went
away, she had given him pressing in-
vitations to come and stay at Llanoun
and see her schools and other useful in-
stitutions. Even Lord Ehoos forgot to
find him a bore.
And Laura ?
That bright gleam of cordial friendship,
which had broken so pleasantly across the
reserve she had assumed in her first inter-
course with Heme, had vanished suddenly
as it had come ; and now again she was
silent and unapproachable. If he tried
to engage her in conversation, she remem-
bered some duty that called her away ; or
\i constrained to remain in the room, she
LABV LAURA. 3
answered in chilling monosyllables and
turned eagerly to talk with some other
person. And yet, with a strange per-
verseness, when he was talking to others
her eyes would stray in his direction,
and no word that fell from him escaped
her ear. She watched him come and
go, and was conscious of an unwonted
vibration through all her frame when
he addressed her. She seemed to know
beforehand what he was going to say, to
catch meanings in his words which others
missed ; and more than once she 'was
startled to find her eyes meeting his
across the room in a flash of sympathy
at some thought that one had uttered
even while it crossed the mind of the
other. What had happened to her ?
She trembled at the answer, for was
not he Cassandra's lover ? — was not she,
in a manner, Cassandra's confidante ?
There was no excuse for her; she had
4 LADY LAURA.
known how things were from the be-
And yet when, where, how had she
been to blame ? She could no more have
said at what moment she had first felt a
tremor in his presence than she could
have told when the first red glow had
come upon the woods. She could only-
long for his departure, and feel, even
while she longed for it, a great dread
of the emptiness that he would leave
behind. She had a foretaste of what
this- would be every time he missed
coming into luncheon, or their party was
so di^dded in walks or rides that he went
one way and she another. And yet she
was always straining her ingenuity to
bring about such arrangements ; for she
was resolved to be loyal to her cousin,
cost what it might.
Sometimes she thought of seeking
safety in confession to her mother or
LADY LAURA. 5
her sister, for she knew that she had but
to breathe a hint of her distress in order
to be delivered fi'om Heme's presence
in the house. But many motives held
her silent. Shame made her shrink from
telling how her heart had strayed into
love for the man who was to be her
cousin's husband. It was better not to
speak, she said to herself, for when once
he was married to Cassandra all would be
safe — all viust be safe : they would then
be on a well-defined footing, a certain
degree of intimacy would be allowable,
and self-respect would check all warmer
feelings. It would be better then not to
have spoken — fairer to herself, to Heme,
to Cassandra. And then there were hopes
whispering low in her heart that things
might take a turn she had not looked for.
It might be that she was mistaken about
Cassandra, and in that case her self-
reproach was uncalled-for. It might be,
6 LADY LAURA.
. . . might be . . . might be that it was
for her sake he was staying so long
among them. It might be that one
day he would tell her so. And then all
her self-tormenting would pass like a bad
The low whisperings prevailed, and
she kept her secret from all about her.
Not however without a sense of guilt
that added much to her wretchedness ;
for once, quite early in Heme's visit,
she had had a little warning from Lady
Sarah, which, as it came prematurely,
she had been able to dismiss with honest
assm'ances that she was in no danger.
Ehoos, coming into the library one morn-
ing, had surprised her sitting on the
floor in front of a bookcase in which old
newspapers and periodicals were stowed
away. A litter of papers was about her,
and she was so absorbed in some pamphlet
or magazine that she held in her hand
LADY LAURA. 7
as not to notice his entrance. Laura
was not in the habit of reading old news-
papers and periodicals, and her brother's
curiosity was a little excited : he looked
over her shoulder and discovered that it
was an article of Heme's in a back number
of the Beforvier that she was devouring
with so much interest. He drew his in-
ferences and communicated them to Lady
Sarah, who, acting on the hint, gently
cautioned Laura against letting her affec-
tions be entangled in a way that was not
likely to be approved of by her father,
and could therefore not lead to her own
happiness. To which Laura had replied
by assuring her sister that she was in no
danger of feeling more than friendship for
Heme, that she had only looked out
the article because she wanted to under-
stand something she had heard her father
say about it, and that there were a thou-
sand reasons why Sarah must not get
8 LADY LAURA.
notions of this kind into her head. And
she ended hy telling all the little romance
she had spun about Heme and Cassandra,
with the result that Lady Sarah was quite
satisfied that the alarm was needless.
She told her brother so, and he shrugged
his shoulders and remarked that, whatever
happened, he considered that he had done
And now that there was real danger,
Sarah was gone and no one seemed
to suspect anything. The reserve that
wrapped her round at all times served
as a cloak for her secret, and no one
discovered that a change had come over
her. And yet the change was very
great. In one short month she had
learned to look differently on all without
her and to doubt of much within. New
worlds of thought had opened to her,
new subjects claimed her interest. Poli-
tics, art, science, philosophy — all the dry
LADY LAURA. 9
and learned topics of grown-up life, to
which she had hitherto turned a deaf ear,
seemed to have revealed themselves in
forms of Hving interest. Knowledge had
become incarnate and had spoken to her
in a human voice. She felt ashamed
now of the ignorance she had confessed
so unconcernedly in her first talks with
Heme ; she hated herseK for the in-
difference she had hitherto felt towards
the wider interests of humanity. She
longed to he more worthy according to
his standard of worthiness, and blushed
to find herself continually wondering
what impression she was making on the
man who was her cousin's lover.
But the visit could not last for ever.
Pleasurable or painful, it had to end, and
one Sunday morning Laura woke up to
the consciousness that to-morrow she
would be delivered from the presence
that embarrassed her. She tried to per-
lo LADY LAURA,
suade herself that she was glad, but
there was no gladness in the eyes that
looked at her from the glass while
she was dressing ; and those were hardly
tears of joy that stole through her fingers
a few hours later as she buried her face
in her hands during the Litany and her
heart stammered a prayer that she might
be delivered from her distress — a prayer
that brought no help, but rather increased
her trouble and her shame. For here,
in church, where he never came, sense
of another guilt than treachery to Cas-
sandra weighed upon her. This new-
comer, who had taken all her sympathies
by violence, seemed to stand between
her and God; and every thought that
went towards him seemed so much taken
from her faith. She wanted to pray to be
delivered from him ; but while his image
was present to her, prayer seemed vain,
for he did not believe it could prevail.
LADY LAURA. n
She wiped away her tears and stared
up at the window so that the sunlight
might scorch her eyes dry. But they
filled again immediately and she was
fain to bury them once more. Then
she saw Cassandra looking at her as
if she were reading her secret; and
with a strong effort she recovered self-
command and looked steadily at her
prayer-book during the remainder of the
The castle had been poorly represented
at church that morning. Lord St. Asaph
never went to church — nor Ehoos, whose
Continental habit of breakfasting at
eleven would have been interfered with
by such an exercise. Heme's avowed
principles of unbelief excused him of
course, and Egmont was lazy on Sunday
mornings and inclined to consider his
weak ankle. So Lady St. Asaph and
Laura had had the pew to themselves.
12 LADV LAURA,
As tliey came out, they joined the
rectory party and walked a little way with
them. Then Cassandra and Anna turned
back at Lady St. Asaph's invitation, and
came up to the castle for luncheon.
As they came through the village
Laura saw Khoos and Heme coming
to meet them, and in a moment she felt
the painful tightness of her heart relax.
How well she knew that figure,
the flexible height, the curve of the
shoulders, the turn of the neck, and —
over all — the brightness, the charm that
no other figure had for her !
* Is that Khoos coming along ? ' asked
Lady St. Asaph.
'Yes, I think so, Ehoos and Maurice
Heme.' It was Anna who spoke, and
she added, 'I wonder they are not
ashamed to show themselves in the face
of the whole congregation.'
as it Mr. Heme?' said Lady St.
LADY LAURA. 13
Asaph, doubtfully. ' I thought it looked
Heme and Egmont were about the
same height, and Laura herself, as the
reader may remember, had once mistaken
Heme for her brother. She wondered
now that she could ever have made such
' I think it is Maurice,' repeated Anna ;
* but I really don't feel sure.'
* It is certainly Maurice,' Cassandra
said. ^I could never mistake his walk.
There is a peculiar uncertain swing about
it, as though he were trying to go in two
directions at once.'
Laura looked up at Cassandra with
wonder in her eyes. She had been feel-
ing that not to give an opinion on this
question of identity was to make herself
singular, and yet she could not, if her
Hfe had depended on it, have said a word.
And here was Cassandra giving her
14 LADY LAURA.
opinion with perfect ease and going out
of her way to suggest disparagement of
Heme ! A wild hope rushed to her
heart, driving away the inchnation to
tears and the choking sensation at her
throat. She gave herself up to it thank-
fully — ^joy was safer to-day than sadness,
easier to conceal and less likely to be
wondered at if it betrayed itself. She
would drink the pleasant hope to the
dregs, putting away the thought of the
void misery that must come afterwards
and be borne as it could. She smiled up
at Heme when he spoke to her, making
no attempt at reserve. She knew that
if she answered coldly he would turn
from her to Cassandra, and that then
perhaps her tears would come again.
She let him walk by her and talk. She
would be happy for an hour, though all
the future should be blank. Only she
must avoid Cassandra's eyes and trample
LADY LAURA. 15
down the thought of what Cassandra
might be feeling.
Again at luncheon he was by her side,
and again she gave herseK to enjoyment ;
she talked gaily, laughed, looked brilliant
and lovely. But after luncheon she stole
away to her room and knelt down by her
bed and cried a long time. The others
went for a walk; but she said she was
tired and would rather stay at home.
And by the evening she was in the calm
impassive state that follows upon a nervous
So the day came to an end. And next
morning, before she was up, she heard
wheels grinding along the carriage-road,
and she knew that the dog- cart had come
to take him to the early train at Cresford.
She crept to the window and di'ew back
the blind and looked out into the autumn
morning. The sunshine was almost
as beautiful as on that morning when
l6 LADY LAURA.
they had rambled together, but the trees
were very bare and to Laura the scene
looked desolate. There was the dog-
cart waiting, the horse tossing its head
impatiently and rattling the ring of the
bearing rein. She noticed that the rug
she generally used in the pony-carriage
had been flung over the seat, and she felt
a pleasure in the fact. A servant brought
out a portmanteau and put it under the
seat. Then Egmont came and said some-
thing to the groom. And then — but then
her eyes grew dim and she let the blind
down and started back, for Heme was
coming out and she dared not risk being
seen. She left the window and went
to the dressing-table where half-a-dozen
withered cyclamens were standing in a
glass. She took the flowers in her hand
and placed them in a little note-book
that she habitually carried about her.
Then she pushed the book under her
LADY LAURA, 17
pillow and crept into bed again. And
in another moment slie heard the wheels
tarn, and she knew that he was gone.
Very empty the house seemed all that
day, very weary all the uses of her life
for many days to come. But yet over
and over again she said to herself that
it was a relief that he was gone.
By degrees her life subsided again into
its accustomed channels, the new sugges-
tions of doubt and difficulty, which had
begun to obscure the old lights, vanished
from her view and left her sky clear and
untroubled as of old ; and before a
month was past the only outward change
to be observed in her was an increased
activity among the people of the village
— the only inward change that seemed
abiding to herself was her newly- awak-
ened interest in the larger life of the
world. She read newspapers and was
attentive when questions of social im-
VOL. n. 2
i8 LADY LAURA.
portance were discussed, and she made
Cassandra explain to her much in art
and science which had formerly been
indifferent to her.
She believed that all danger was
past and that her new interests held
her by their intrinsic importance. But
the withered cyclamens were not removed
from their place, and the habit continued
of putting the little pocket-book under
her pillow at night.
Do you not know I am a woman ?
When I think, I must speak. '
T was a shock to Laura to find
herself painfully confused when
one day, about a fortnight before
Christmas, Egmont, in speaking of some
guest who was shortly expected at the
castle, remarked that he should like
him to meet Heme. She had not under-
stood that Heme was coming again, and
she was amazed to find that a certain
self-consciousness prevented her from
simply saying so, as would have been
the natural course. She felt herself
blushing at mention of his name ; and,
20 LADY LAURA.
unwilling to meet her brother's look, she
received the communication in silence.
Egmont misunderstood her silence and
imputed it to dislike of Heme.
/ I can't think why you have taken
such a disHke to Heme,' he said in a
tone of annoyance. * He is really a very
good fellow, full of kindheartedness and
generosity. And though he has got very
Kadical opinions, I declare I think there
is a great deal of reason in much that
he says. He is not a bit of a prig ;
indeed he can't be, or my father would
never have taken such a fancy to him.
It is very illiberal of you to disHke him,
just because he is not a Conservative.
You know the fact is, Laura, . . . .'
Here Egmont stopped and got rather
red. He was beginning to feel it in-
cumbent on him to have opinions and
to express them ; but at the same time
he was conscious of the difficulty of
LADY LAURA. 21
appearing in a new character in the
family circle. Away from home, he
talked politics with dignity if not with
originality ; but at home his intellectual
majority was not recognised, and he con-
fined himself generally to more boyish
subjects. His friendship with Heme
had however given him courage of late ;
besides, he had been reading political
economy and constitutional history,
and, what with books and the conversa-
tion of his friend, he was in as fair a
way as most of us to become a political
He waited a moment to collect his
ideas, and then began again. * You
see, Laura, I think we are a little too
much inclined to stand still here. My
father's ill-health has put him out of
the struggle ; he really knows nothing
of the state of thought and feeling at
the present day ; things have made
22 LADY LAURA.
enormous strides since he was a young
man ; and of course, if things change,
opinions must change too. And then,
you know, though my mother is admir-
able in a practical way, she does not
take a large view. They say women
never do. I mean, you know, that though
it's very nice to have the parish under
one's own influence and to be a sort
of royal family in the place, this sort of
feudal state of things can't go on always,
and that every man ought to look all
these working-class questions boldly in
the face so as to be ready to take his
part when the time for action comes.
And my father himself was a Liberal
when he was a young man, though I
don't know that that matters. . . . But
what was I saying ? Oh, I remember,
I was speaking of Heme. He really
is a very good fellow and thoroughly
earnest in his opinions.'
LADY LAURA. 23
' I do not doubt his being in earnest,
but I think he is rather unpractical,' said
Laura, getting more and more embar-
rassed, and feehng diiven to say some-
thing, since Egmont was determined to
argue about Heme's merits. She had
no particular meaning in saying that he
was unpractical, and was annoyed to
find the word taken up by her brother.
^ Unpractical ? That's what women
always say when they don't know what
fault to find with a man.'
^ Do they ? ' said Laura, with a peculiar
smile that she seldom showed to any one
but Egmont — a smile that betrayed the
presence of some critical keenness under
the diffidence and silence of her usual
bearing. ^ Do they always say men
are unpractical ? I should say that
showed there must be some truth in the
^ Not in the least ; a thing does not
24 LADY LAURA.
become true by repetition,' said Egmont
sublimely. ^But what do you mean by
being unpractical ? '
^ Talking about things that can't be
done instead of doing what can.'
^ Oh, if that is your idea of Heme,'
said Egmont, rousing himself with sudden
and somewhat scornful energy, ^I can
only tell you that you are tremendously
mistaken. He is always doing all sorts
of good things — Quixotic sort of things,
such as you don't often hear of a man's
doing. He'll take any amount of trouble
for a friend. The fact is, he is in a very
unfair position here, and it's an infernal
shame from beginning to end.'
* What do you mean ? ' said Laura,
wishing heartily that she could tell her
brother the true state of her feelings
towards his friend instead of having to
argue against him and herself at once.
^ Oh, I mean with regard to the rectory
LADY LAURA. 25
people. You must know as well as I do
that they have got a grudge against him.'
^I know they don't like his opinions
and that they think he had a bad influ-
ence upon Gerard.'
* Exactly, that's the very thing, and
what I say is so infernally unfair. Gerard
got into all sorts of scrapes at Oxford, and
Heme helped him out of them and made
the best of things at home. And then
at last .... but it is not the sort of
thing I can tell you about. Uncle Harvey
would have been furious if he had ever
heard the whole story. When Gerard
had to leave Oxford in disgrace, and
all idea of his taking orders had to be
given up, they chose to say that it was
Heme's fault : whereas everybody who
had an ounce of sense knew perfectly
well that Heme was the best friend
Gerard ever had, and that Gerard was
about as fit to go into the Church as
26 LADY LAURA.
I am. I declare I wonder Heme con-
descends to speak to any of them again.
Only I suppose he likes Cassandra, and
that sott of thing will make a man over-
look a good deal.'
^ I wonder, too, that he comes among
them. By doing so he seems to me to
be thrusting himself upon relations who
do not think well of him and who have
shown that they wish to drop him. And —
I cannot quite express what I mean — but
I have a feeling that a man ought not to
let himself be thought worse of than he
deserves, and that if circumstances bring
such a state of things about, he should
avoid the society of those who misjudge
him, and live in a world where he can be
known as he is. I think that must be
the meaning of not putting one's light
under a bushel.'
^ Pshaw ! ' said Egmont, '• I wish I had
not told you about Heme. You have
LADY LAURA. 27
only turned it all to his disadvantage. I
can't think why you persist in being so
prejudiced against him.'
^ Indeed, I am not prejudiced. I only
said that I regretted his placing himself
in a false position.'
* That is just what I complain of in
you. You ivill not see that it is circum-
stances that have placed him in a false
position. The fact is, you don't know
how perplexing life is to a man.'
^ Poor Egmont ! ' said Laura, glad to
divert the conversation into another
channel. ' Is it very perplexing to you ? '
^ Not more so I suppose than to most
men. But, I say, Laura, don't you think
you might persuade my mother to have a
pleasant party in the house at Christmas ?
It is generally so frightfully dull, and my
mother can't bear us not to be here, and
yet I really don't see how we can be
expected to stay in the house if we may
28 LADY LAURA.
not do anything jolly. I don't believe it
would do my father any harm if we had
a ball. He really likes to see people
about, though he fancies he doesn't.
That's one reason why I asked Heme
to come back — my father likes him.
However, we won't go back to that
And then they wandered away into
discussion of who might be asked to the
house, and what might be done for the
entertainment of their guests when they
should be gathered together. And Laura
promised to do her best to persuade her
father and mother. And she kept her
Willing as she always was to forward
any wish of Egmont's, it must be admitted
that she prosecuted the idea of filling the
house at Christmas-time with an energy
and persistence most unusual in her. She
coaxed her father into consent, reasoned
LADY LAURA. 29
away all her mother's objections, — pro-
mising to take upon herself all trouble
of preparation and responsibility of en-
tertainment, — was seized with a sudden
passion for charades and dancing, and
contrived to communicate her enthusiasm
to Cassandra. She found an imexpected
ally in Khoos, whose view, expressed in
a letter from Paris, was that Christmas
being a dreary infliction to be borne
somehow, it was desirable to have a lot
of people in the house during the festival
to drown melancholy in noise — as Indians
are said to collect tum-tum men around
their Suttee sacrifices. He even promised
to make the gathering a condition of his
presence at Ardgwen ; and by this stroke
quite vanquished Lady St. Asaph, who
would have invited all England to her
house if by so doing she could have
ensured getting her son to come at the
30 LADY LAURA.
The only point in the programme that
they failed to carry between them was
the ball. Lord St. Asaph could be got
to look with favour on the assembling of
a merry party of young people under his
roof, so long as it was well understood
that it was a family party ; but a ball to
which all the county should be formally
invited was not to be thought of. The
idea of the ball was therefore abandoned,
or rather, like many great ideas that
have startled the world from the Empire
of Alexander downwards, it disappeared
in its integrity to be revived in less
imposing parts. It seemed sufficiently
within the term of a family party to need
no new reference to he ad- quarters, that
there should be informal dancing every
other night in the old banqueting-hall,
and that a few specially intimate friends
from the neighbourhood should be in-
vited to swell the number in the house.
LADY LAURA. 31
And with the tacit consent of their
mother and the assumed acquiescence of
their father, Egmont and Laui'a rode
from house to house, giving verbal invita-
tions for one night or another to almost
all the people whom they had originally-
thought of asking together. Festivities
were to begin a few days before Christ-
mas and to be kept up actively till New
Year's Day, when the guests would
disperse and the party from Ardgwen
were invited for a few days to Llanoun —
the Tremadocs being unable to spend
Christmas at the castle.
And so when Heme arrived on Christ-
mas Eve he found the household entirely
metamorphosed. In place of the quiet
family circle with whom he had grown
intimate during his autumn visit, he
found a houseful of people, almost all
strange to him, but intimate with one
another with the intimacy of blood-
32 LADY LAURA.
relationship. There was a strong county
and family tone about the house ; con-
versation ran in family channels of dis-
cussion of people unknown to him and of
interests in which he had no part. For
though the Gwynnes were open-minded
and could look beyond the windows of
their castle upon the world of human
interests, they belonged enough to their
own world to fall naturally into its tone
on suitable occasions. Heme felt him-
self an outsider, and though his hosts
were uniformly kind and friendly to
him, he had a sense of being neglected.
His especial grievance, though he would
not allow it to himself, was that Lam-a
was almost inaccessible. Young lady
cousins engrossed her all the morning,
cousins of the other sex were eager to
secure her as a partner in the evening
dances, to be at her side on horseback,
or hold her hand on the ice; nephews
LADY LAURA. 33
and nieces took possession of her at
luncheon, and by their constant demands
upon her attention made it impossible
for her to join in general conversation.
Heme could have forgiven her for being
constantly engaged, but he could not
forgive her for looking so happy while
he was feeling mortified.
He was not, however, quite without
consolation. For on the rare occasions
when they were thrown together in such
a way as made conversation inevitable,
he could not but observe that her manner
towards him was different fi'om her man-
ner towards others. She seemed more
eager to talk and less content to be
merely talked to, as if she cared that he
should really know her thought : whereas,
with others, she seemed only concerned
to hear what they had to say and to give
such sympathy as they might require.
For instance, she would begin suddenly,
VOL. n. 3
34 LADY LAURA.
' Oh Mr. Heme, I have been wanting to
tell you,' — and then would follow a little
story of her experience since they had
met, bearing on something he had said ;
or an allusion to a book he had recom-
mended : delightful indications that she
distinguished him among the others, and
that his influence had become one of the
continuous threads of her existence.
It was a pity he could not know that
when she was smiling most sweetly upon
others and entering gaily into conver-
sation for which he did not care, the
sweetness and radiance that tormented
him owed their origin to his presence,
under the influence of which she felt
herself expanding into fuller enjoyment
than she had known for weeks ; — a pity,
not only for his sake, but for Laura's,
w^hose gladness was many a time checked
by seeing him looking depressed and
abstracted. ' Like a mute at a wedding,'
LADY LAURA. 35
Egmont said, — and lie added that he
should have given him credit for being
able to enjoy himseK Hke a reasonable
man, and that he was beginning to think
him a prig after all. But Laura felt
rebuked by his gravity, and found her-
seK once more questioning her own right
to be happy.
It was New Year's Eve, the day before
the party was to break up. The hall was
decorated with flowers and evergreens ;
wax-lights burned in the old silver
sconces on the walls ; the number of
dancers was double what it had been on
any former night. It was almost a ball ;
and all the more successful for its im-
promptu character, which kept down ex-
pectation and disposed everybody to be
easily gratified. Musicians had been
hired from Cresford, and Cassandra, who
had hitherto taken on herself the part of
playing, was free to dance among the rest.
36 LADY LAURA.
She was looking more than usually hand-
some, and winning as much admiration
as Laura herself. People amused them-
selves with discussing which was the more
beautiful — some giving the palm to the
girlish charms of Laura, others to the
more mature beauty of Cassandra.
Maurice Heme, standing moodily in a
doorway, watched first one and then the
other with wondering annoyance. The
scene looked foolish to him, as scenes of
frivolity are apt to look when we are out
of temper ; and it passed his understand-
ing that sensible people should find
delight in it. He had not danced him-
self for years — he had got out of the
habit of ball-going in his hard-working
days and had never resumed it. And
though his abstinence was mainly the
result of circumstances, that did not
prevent his regarding the enjoyment of
others from a position of critical supe-
LADY LAURA. yj
riority. As the Frenchman decided that
music was an illusion when old age
had deprived him of hearing, so Heme,
having forgotten the pleasures of rhythmic
movement, judged that to whirl one
another round on a poHshed floor was a
pastime in which only fools could find
satisfaction. I hope it will not be con-
sidered an inconsistency in him that he
rather envied the fools in their folly.
Laura came up and asked him why he
did not dance,
* You cannot think how delightful it is
on this smooth oak floor. It is like
swimming away into heaven. . . . But I
believe you think it silly, — if not wrong,'
she added wistfully.
* Not in the least ; I merely envy those
who enjoy it.'
* But why should not you enjoy it ? It
is much better to enjoy than to envy.
WiU you let me find you a partner ?
38 LADY LAURA.
You shall have Eva Courtenay, who
dances like a fairy.'
' Is it too much to ask that you should
take my conversion in hand yourself?
Will you give me the next dance ? '
* I wish I could, hut I am engaged.'
^ And for the dance after that ? '
^ I am afraid I am engaged for all
the rest of the evening. But do ask
Eva Courtenay was the prettiest of a
trio of pretty, fair-haired girls — nieces of
Lord St. Asaph — who were staying in the
house. Egmont had been paying her
great attention throughout the visit, and
they had danced almost every dance
together that evening. Now, however,
she appeared to be disengaged, and was
sitting by her mother while couples were
sorting themselves and getting into place.
But as Laura spoke, Egmont was seen
approaching her, and Heme said, —
LADY LAURA. 39
' You see Miss Courtenay is also en-
gaged. It is too late for repentance.'
Then Laura's partner claimed her, and
Heme, falling back into the doorway,
saw her carried past him in the dance.
* Since when have you renounced
dancing ? ' asked Cassandra's voice in
an amused tone. She was sitting on a
bench near the door and had overheard
the little dialogue with Laura.
' Since I lost the power of enjoying it.
It is a taste one outgrows.'
* 1 have not outgrown it yet, and I have
had more of it than you have.'
* I can only congratulate you on your
more enduring youth.'
^ Pray don't look so melancholy,' said
Cassandra ; ^ your tragic air is attracting
general attention. An old lady has been
asking Khoos confidentially who the
sombre-looking man standing in the
doorway is ; and I have had to give up
40 LADY LAURA.
this dance in order to reassure her about
you. She thought you must be plotting
instant destruction of Church and State,
and was on the point of ordering her
carriage before supper.'
* It is my misfortune to look savage
when I am bored.'
^But why be bored when everybody
else is happy ? '
^ I was meditating on the hackneyed
theme of mutability.'
^The occasion that suggested it
^ The difference in the appearance of
this house to-night and when I was here
in the autumn.'
* And of course you think the change
is not for the better ? '
^ I certainly found it pleasanter in the
autumn. I am out of my element in
the midst of all this rejoicing.'
^Eejoicing is the right thing at
LADY LAURA. 41
Christmas-time,' said Cassandra. ' I
Heme shrugged his shoulders. ' Again
I can only congratulate you.'
He spoke with an air of profound
dejection, at which Cassandra could not
refrain from smiling.
* I seem to amuse you,' he said.
^ Yes, you do. You remind me of old
times and tempt me to give myself airs
again and lecture you. Shall I ? '
' By all means. You will make me
feel young again.'
^ And am I to he candid — to speak the
truth and the whole truth ? '
' For instance, may I say that I think
it is rather unreasonable of you to be put
out at finding yourself a less important
person here now than you were six
months ago ? '
Cassandi'a gave her homethrust in a
42 LADY LAURA.
bantering tone, and then looked np apolo-
getically, doubtful how it would be taken.
* You are as unmerciful as ever,' said
' I am rude,' she said.
But she did not look rude. Her face
wore an expression of affectionate solici-
tude, and there were tears in her eyes.
She repeated, 'I was rude, and I beg
your pardon. To tell the truth, I quite
agree with you in hating nothing s o
much as a houseful of people that I
don't know. But I do happen to know
these people, and I can enjoy myself
among them. Besides, I have an in-
satiable love of dancing.'
^ You would have liked to dance this ? '
* I would rather talk.'
' What shall we talk about ? '
' Anything you like. Do you know,
by-the-by, that you have a great deal to
answer for with regard to Egmont ?
LADY LAURA. 43
He has changed his politics and become
a Liberal since he made your ac-
quaintance, and he is continually coming
out with startling notions which he backs
up with your authority. You have be-
come a sort of pope with him.'
Heme laughed. And then going back
to the subject of his own thoughts, he
^ I am coming round to your opinion
that friendship is a mistake between
people who belong to different worlds.'
^I am afraid it is,' said Cassandra;
* or rather it is an impossibility. To be
friends, people must have a common
ground in their every-day life. And yet
I don't know that the truth of the matter
is not that the consciousness of belonging
to different worlds only lasts till people
have become friends.'
^ Certainly,' said Heme, ^ there have
been strong friendships between people
44 LADY LAURA.
at opposite poles of society ; and not
friendships only, but marriages which
have proved happy.'
Cassandra was doubting what to an-
swer, when the music stopped, and the
dancers interrupted then* Ute-d-Ute by
passing through the door to seek cooler
air in the galleries and on the stau'case.
But Heme was not disposed to be inter-
rupted altogether. It was the first time
Cassandra had allowed herself to be drawn
into anything like intimate talk with him
since he had arrived. She had been
designedly repellent in her manner to-
wards him, warding off by an air of studied
indifference the danger of being led into
any betrayal of her real feelings. And,
as it was her good or ill fortune to be an
excellent actress. Heme had been taken
in. He believed that his early love for
her had died long ago, and he had never
thought that she had repaid it with more
LADY LAURA. 45
than friendsliip. But he had vahied her
friendship, and it was not without regret
that he observed her determination to
keep him at a distance. He would not
let slip this opportunity of recovering
their old footing.
' Shall we move too ? ' he said, ofiering
her his arm and leading her, not towards
the galleries whither the dancers were
making their way, but across the stone
passage into the library where no one
Cassandra let herself be led away
without reflecting that she was drifting
into the very danger that she had been
taking so much trouble to avoid. Her
mind at the moment was turned upon
another danger — not to herself — which she
was anxious if pospble to avert. During
the six weeks that had passed between
Heme's two visits she had come to see
his attitude towards Laura in another
46 LADY LAURA.
light than that in which it had first
struck her. It was clear to her that
Laura's feelings were seriously engaged,
but it was by no means clear to her that
happiness would result from the attach-
ment. She foresaw opposition from Lord
St. Asaph, besides other difficulties which
appeared to her insuperable. Heme's
allusion to marriages between people at
opposite social poles suggested to her
the possibility of saying a word of timely
warning. As they sat down in the empty
room she said, —
^ You were going to speak of marriages
between people who belong to different
worlds. I think they make a case apart
from friendship ; for in marriage one world
or the other must be given up,— either
husband or wife adopting the life of
the other. But I should think that it
was generally a dangerous experiment.
Few natures are vigorous enough to
LADY LAURA. 47
thrive in an atmosphere that is wholly
She waited for him to answer, but he
was silent ; and she repented having
spoken, wishing herself back among the
^ Are you going to Llanoun ? ' she
* I am. Are you ? '
* No ; I have had rejoicing enough.'
^ But surely this is a sudden determina-
tion. Lady Laura told me you were to
'■ I have written to Sarah that I am not
* But that is a pity. Can't you be per-
suaded to change your mind ? '
* Much would depend on the arguments
^ If I said that it was a great dis-
appointment to me that you would not
be there, would that have any effect ? '
48 LADY LAURA.
* No,' she said, a sudden resentment
mastering her. ^ It would not make the
slightest difference, because I should not
Heme was not sure whether she was
in jest or earnest ; and, had her presence
of mind not deserted her, she might yet
have made a safe retreat. But she had
spoken under the influence of one of
those impulses common to passionate
natures, that urge them to break down
shams and face real issues in naked
truthfulness ; and having spoken, she
felt that further dissimulation was use-
less, and she went on recklessly.
^ Maurice,' she said bitterly, ^ why
should we play at hide-and-seek to-
gether — we who understand one another
so well ? You need not be afraid. I have
no intention of speaking of myself beyond
asking you not to insult me any more
with insincere speeches like your last.
LADY LAURA. 49
It is about Laura that I am going to
speak. You are playing with her un-
fairly — you are upsetting her peace of
mind without having any definite pros-
pect of being able to restore it. You
know that you are not in a position to
marry her, — that my uncle would turn
you out of the house if you proposed
such a thing, — and yet you hang about
her and let her get fond of you. Of
your own part in it I say nothing, though
it is pitiable enough that you should
waste your time in dreaming about a
woman who is utterly out of your reach.
It is of her happiness that I am thinking.
.... You are going to Llanoun.
Have you realised what you are doing ?
Have you considered that Laura cannot
be your wife without either outraging all
the traditions of her family or being a
stranger at your hearth ? If she were
to adopt your views she would cut her-
VOL. II. 4
50 LADY LAURA.
self off from her own people — if she
did not adopt them, you would both be
miserable. It is folly to think of it ! '
* But I tell you/ said Heme, ^ that I
have not thought of it.'
' Then I say it is greater folly still to
drift into danger without thinking of it.'
* Are you sure the danger does not lie
wholly in your imagination ? '
' My imagination shows it me perhaps,
but it does not create it. Imagination
is no bad prophet ; and if I have too
much, I only wish I could give you a
little of it in place of some of your
short-sighted man's wisdom.'
^ I think you are presuming too much
upon our friendship, Cassandra. . . .'
He began severely, but his tone quickly
changed; and Cassandra felt that it was
in tenderness and not in anger that he
broke off. She answered sadly, —
* It is possible. But I care for Laura,
LADY LAURA. 51
and I cannot be silent when I feel that
to speak may perhaps save her from the
misery that I foresee for her in any
development of her feeling for you. Yes,
I say it advisedly — misery. You do not
know her as I know her ; and you think,
perhaps, because she talks little of her
reHgious beliefs and is happy in small
things, that she is indifferent to greater
ones. But you are mistaken. Hers is
just one of those sensitive minds to
which, while the world is what it is,
some faith in a better world is a neces-
sary condition of happiness. She is
happy now almost without knowing why,
but if you took from her her belief
in God and Heaven she would wither
like a flower in drought. And if you
think that she would be content to
worship without you, I tell you again
that you are mistaken. And I know
what I am talking about. I know what
UNIVERSITY OF ILUWOfe
52 LADY LAURA.
it is to stand alone, to believe alone. . . .
I know it as you cannot know it — as only
those can know who have been lonely
all their lives .... Oh, Maurice !....'
She broke down suddenly, and the last
word came with a sob.
She had not meant to speak of herself,
she had said truly that it was love for
Laura and solicitude on her account that
had prompted her to speak her warning.
For during the last few weeks she had
faced and conquered the unworthy
jealousy that had taken her soul by
storm in the hour when she reahsed
that Maurice's affection was transferred
from herself to her cousin : she had
put her foot upon the neck of her un-
requited love and trampled it in the
dust of repentance. But our mortified
egoisms live on underfoot, writhing be-
neath the pressure of our will, ready
to start up again the moment our watch-
LADY LAURA. 53
fulness, is relaxed, and surprise us
perhaps in some cunning disguise of dis-
interested care for tlie welfare of another.
Affection for Laura had been the
prompter. But the cue given, words had
come to her as to an actor who has
brooded over his part till each pregnant
word calls up the next, and the effort of
memory is reduced to kindling the first
of a chain of linked emotions. It was
her own experience that had taught her
to fear for her cousin; how then could
she plead for Laura without pleading in-
directly for herself ? How could thoughts
forged in the fire of her own trial find
utterance and not show marks of their
In thinking she could speak and yet
keep her secret, she had over-estimated
her strength ; and she read her failure
in the compassion that looked from
54 LADY LAURA.
Her words came to him as an appeal
from a soul in anguish, and with them a
rush of influence from the past went over
him — strong, irresistible as the avalanche
that sweeps the mountain's side with the
force of a long winter's gathered snows.
^ Cassandra,' he said in a low voice,
^ you have only to say one word, and I
will stay away from Llanoun, and Laura
shall be saved from all risk of pain.
I am sincere now, and it rests with
you to keep me so. Will you believe
He was bending over her. She felt
his breath upon her forehead; his hand
was laid on hers. But her eyes were fixed
upon her lap. She dared not lift them
to meet his.
^ Cassandra,' he said again, ' will you
trust me ? '
The tones of his voice thrilled her like
exquisite music. But she could not
LADY LAURA. 55
answer. Wonder, joy, shame held her
^ Cassandi'a,' said another voice, —
Laura's, — speaking from the door.
And Cassandra made haste to dis-
engage her hand, pretending confusedly
that a bracelet had got unclasped and
was being adjusted.
'■ I have been looking for you every-
where,' said Laura. * We want to dance
Sir Eoger, and Ehoos says he is engaged
to you and will not dance with anybody
else. Come quickly, we are all waiting.'
The two women went away together —
Laura apparently without having even
noticed Heme's presence, Cassandra
without giving him a parting look.
An hour later the hall was deserted,
the wax candles were blown out and
stood corpse-hke in their sconces. Move-
ment of bright dancers and murmur
of voices were gone, and the great
56 LADY LAURA.
chamber was once more tenanted by the
silence and emptiness that were its
usual occupants. The last carriage
had rolled away through falling snow ;
the ladies of the house had retired to
their rooms ; the men were lingering over
the hall-fire, preparatory to a retreat to
* Where is Heme ? ' asked Ehoos.
^ He went to bed an horn' ago with
a bad headache/ said Egmont. * He
seemed out of sorts all the evening, and
he asked me to make his excuses if any
one noticed his absence. Heigh-ho !
let's have a smoke.'
' When a man is disappointed in a woman, it pleases-
him to think her hateful and to pray to be delivered from
her. But to have loved a woman once is to have a capa-
city for loving her again.
' Now to love life is like loving a woman.'
IaSSANDKA did not go to bed
after the dance. She sat
through the hours between
night and morning, looking out on the
white snow scene. And as she watched
the slow fall of flake on flake, she seemed
to gather a sad consolation from the
noiseless monotony of their descent.
Like the merciful veil of forgetfulness in
death to the fevered folHes of human
life, seemed that white covering settHng
58 LADY LAURA.
silently on hill and valley and garden
lawn, and wrapping in a common garment
of loveliest purity castle and cottage and
spreading tree and creeping ivy.
^ Oh if I could only die to-night ! ' she
murmured to herseK — ' die and escape
the shame of to-morrow — die and be
forgiven for all my blunders, and remem-
bered only as the dead are, with tender-
ness and pity. Oh if I could only die
and be at rest ! '
Poor troubled spirit — the rest of death
is far away from you as yet ! Far from
those vigorous rounded limbs through
which the pulses of life send the blood
coursing with such force that even in the
fireless room where the water is freezing
in the ewer, the hands that grasp each
other in the darkness are warm to
their own touch; far from the glowing
beauty of the face that presses itself in
agony against the window-pane ; very far
LADY LAURA. 59
from the busy activity of the brain that
gives such intolerable point to suffering,
and scares away rest by its impatience of
the inevitable pauses of life. Death is
not coming yet. To-morrow and many
morrows more must be met, with the
shame they may bring, and the sorrow,
and the joy. The hom-s pass slowly, and
the church clock sounds their flight with
a dull uncertain voice at intervals that
seem like centuries ; but they are passing
sm^ely, and the morning will come from
beyond the hills, and you will be full
of life and health to meet it, and you
will wrestle with it as you have wrestled
with the long train of yesterdays that
lie behind you — wounded often and nigh
to despau', but never quite overthrown
or wholly without hope. And you will
rejoice in the blue sky and the sunshine
and the sparkle of the diamond under-
foot ; and you will thank death for having
6o LADY LAURA.
spared you, and love life again despite
the shame. Nay, are you not beginning
to love it again already as you watch the
successive kindling of lights in cottage
bedrooms where labourers are wakening
to the day's toil? Is there not in the
feeble radiation of those smoky candles
a message of sympathy that pierces the
dark loneliness of your heart and calls
you back to fellowship with lives of men
and women whom you know, and have
helped many a time in their hour of
trouble, and are planning even now to
help again ? Can you be heartily praying
for death and quite sated with the light
of living day while that glad smile breaks
over your tired face at sight of what is
happening on the top of the eastern
The snow-flakes have ceased to fall,
and the dim sky-curtain is suffused with
fairest radiance. The snow on the pine-
LADY LAURA. 6i
tops is tui-ned to tawny gold, and the
grey old castle glitters like an aerial
palace of glass. Morning has come at
last ; and its lap is full of healthful in-
fluences of work and hope and interest.
Cassandra rouses herself and strikes a
light; for in spite of the gilding on the
hill-top and the bright reflection from the
outer snow, the room is too dim for the
operations of the toilet to he carried on
without the help of a candle.
She looks at her watch that lies on
the table where she laid it last evening
before dressing for the dance at the
castle ; it has stopped, she must have
neglected to wind it up on coming home.
She strips herself hastily of her ball-gown
and ornaments, and dresses herself in her
usual morning gown. She moves quickly
about the room, doing each little office
with precision and energy, but with a
mind apparently intent upon other things.
62 LADY LAURA.
Her movements are stremious because a
strong resolution is forming in lier mind,
but the resolution has nothing to do with
the trivial acts to which it lends its
By the time she is dressed the church
clock strikes eight; she sets her watch
by it and then sits down and writes a
short note. There are hardly a dozen
lines in it and they are written without
hesitation, for they embody the thought
that has been taking shape in her mind
ever since the light began to dawn upon
the castle slope. They are a translation
into daylight sanity of the wild longing
of the night for death and oblivion : —
^Will you try to forget what passed
last night ? I was weak, and my weak-
ness betrayed me into mad words. I
only ask you now to make no attempt
to see me before you go to Llanoun, and
LADY LAURA, 63
to remember that it is in your power to
hurt Laura. — C. G.'
She folds the note without even read-
ing it through, as if she feared the
temptation to destroy it. Then, wrap-
ping herself in a cloak, she goes out into
the passage where the housemaid is busy
with her broom, down the staircase, and
forth into the white outside world. The
rectory does not breakfast till nine, and
if she walks briskly she will have time to
carry her note to the castle and get home
again before the family assembles for
Very cheerless the scene looked now,
for the brightness of dawn had faded
from the sky which stretched overhead,
an unbroken sheet of dingy grey. The
snow was falling again, and the flakes
settled fast on her cloak and hat, and
drifted coldly against her unprotected
64 LADY LAURA.
face. But she did not heed them. She
walked resolutely on with an expression
of sad but firm purpose that seemed in
harmony with the grim sunlessness of
The note was delivered to a footman
in shirt-sleeves, who promised to give it
to Heme as soon as he should be up,
and looked not a little surprised to see
Cassandra abroad so early after the
dissipation of last night. And when Mrs.
Gwynne came down with the keys of the
tea-chest, Cassandra was already in the
dining-room, waiting for breakfast and
ready to talk over the incidents of the
dance, as if there had been no special
incident of which the remembrance was
painful to her.
But when breakfast was over she put
her cloak on again, and without saying a
word to any one, went forth once more
into the snow — not this time on a definite
LADY LAURA, 65
errand, but merely that she might spend
in physical exercise the throbbing energy
within her, and find soothing for her pain
among the sweeping curves of hill-lines
and the soughing of snow-laden pine-
She walked up the hill that faced the
castle, and when she reached the top she
paused for a few minutes, sending her
eye along the path she had taken before
breakfast as if she expected to see some
one retracing the track of her footsteps
in the snow. But if so, her glance was
disappointed ; for it was not till she was
haKway down the other side of the hill
that Maurice left the breakfast-table,
saying that he was going to the rectory
to take leave of his uncle and aunt
before starting for Llanoun.
^He swears that all the men of his country are
* Marry then, I think that one of them swears false.'
*His reason is that all the women are of one com-
* Marry then, I think he may speak truth.'
ASSANDEA is out,' said Anna
Gwynne as Heme was ushered
into the rectory drawing-room.
^ She has gone on one of her mad errands
through the snow.' She spoke in the
even, inexpressive tones that were
hahitual with her — looking her cousin
straight in the face, but without betray-
ing any special curiosity or suspicion.
LADY LAURA. 67
Heme however knew her too well to
doubt the point of her announcement.
He understood what she meant him to
understand, namely that she was per-
fectly aware that he had come there
for the purpose of seeing Cassandra,
and that Cassandra had gone out in
order to avoid him. He knew also that
ideas, once admitted into Anna's mind,
were not easily displaced, and he made
no attempt directly or indirectly to dis-
claim the object of his visit. He merely
^ I hope your father and mother are
not out too. I have come to say good-
bye before starting for Llanoun.'
^ No, they are at home — I will tell
them you are here.' And Anna went
out of the room to summon her parents.
She returned in a minute saying they
would come presently — her father was
giving instructions to the clerk about
68 LADY LAURA.
the week's services, her mother was
ordering dinner. She sat down on an
armless chair at some distance from
Heme, and, taking some needlework
from her pocket, began sewing dili-
gently — leaving it to him to find con-
* How is it that neither you nor Cas-
sandra are going to Llanoun ? ' he asked.
Addressed to Anna, the question was
a safe one ; there was no danger of her
being carried into one of those embarrass-
ing utterances of the whole truth to
which Cassandra was prone. Anna, like
all people of narrow outlook, had an
instinctive and quite unconscious dis-
like of truth — that is to say, of all truth
that she had not weighed and measured
and followed in thought into its utter-
most consequences. She prided her-
self on being matter-of-fact, and limited
fact to matter within her own ken.
LADY LAURA. 69
And thongh her want of imagination
prevejited her from ever seeing anything
in a true light, she believed herseK to
be the one entirely truthful person in
She answered Heme's question with-
out lifting her eyes from her work.
^ 1 do not go because I take no interest
in Sarah's hobbies, and they are always
more than usually rampant at this time
of the year. And as for Cassandra, her
reasons are always beyond the compre-
hension of the rest of the family. For
my part, I have given up trying to
The steely coldness of her tone
connected itself in Heme's mind with
Cassandra's appeal of the night before for
those whom fate has made lonely in their
lives. He looked at Anna with amaze-
ment, as wondering that any woman
should be so little human, and felt
70 LADY LAURA.
a deepened compassion for Cassandra.
And yet Anna was perhaps not less
entitled to sympathy than Cassandra.
She suspected rightly that Cassandra's
staying away from Llanoun had refer-
ence to something that had gone wrong
in her relations with Mamice, hut what
that something was she was unable to
guess. And she was hurt that Cas-
sandra had not confided in her. Not un-
naturally ; for we cannot expect people to
recognise their incapacity for the part
of confidant when the very cause of it
lies in their defect of the delicate percep-
tions and quick sympathies that belong
to a wide-ranging imagination. If it was
impossible for Cassandra to unbosom her-
self to Anna, it was equally impossible for
Anna not to resent Cassandra's reserve.
There would seem to be in the world an
irreconcilable quarrel between width and
narrowness to which one can see no end
LADY LAURA. 71
save in the final strangling or absorption
of one or other force ; and, in the mean-
while, it is difficult to say on which side
justice and mercy oftenest fail.
Heme took up a book and made no
further attempt at conversation. Anna
stitched on industriously.
It was a relief when Mrs. Gwynne
came in full of affectionate greetings
and cheery interest in the expedition to
Llanoun. She was sorry Anna and Cas-
sandra were not going — but there was
no use in her saying anything. They
were both so much firmer than she was,
and no doubt had good reasons for
staying at home — there was always a
great deal to be done at this time of
the year with the clothing-club and
coal-club, and now that Lady St. Asaph
was so much taken up with Lord St.
Asaph she did not know what she
should do if her daughters did not help
72 LADY LAURA.
her. Still she was sorry. It would
have been a pleasant time for them, and
she would have enjoyed thinking of
them all together at Llanoun. How
long was Maurice going to stay there ? —
had he ever been there before ? No ? —
then he would be very much interested.
Sarah was so clever in her arrange-
ments. Her home was quite an Utopia
— so indeed was the whole parish. And
Mr. Tremadoc was such a kind, pleasant
person. Perhaps it was quite as well
that he did not go quite so far as some
people did about reform, — it was a sort
of check on Sarah. Indeed Mrs. Gwynne
sometimes thought that it was owing
to his influence that Sarah was so much
the most charming of the three sisters —
though they were all charming in their
way. But she could not help thinking
that Mary was a little too scientific
and political for a woman, and that
LADY LAURA. 73
Kacliel would do more good if she
concentrated her energies on some in-
dividual parish instead of belonging to
so many Societies. But then, to be
sure, Eachel lived in London almost all
the year and had not the same oppor-
tunities as her sister. One laust not
judge. . . .
Mrs. Gwynne talked on pleasantly,
taking kindly views of everything and
everybody, while Anna sat back, sewing
with undivided attention, and Heme
just put in a word here and there. If
he had shown any inclination to talk afc
greater length, Mrs. Gwynne would have
been as content to listen as she now was
to talk. She always took the part in life
that was left by others, and cheerfully
made the best of it. She talked on till
her husband came in, with his great-coat
on and his hat in his hand, to ask her
what in the world she had done with
74 LADY LAURA.
the accounts of the clothing-ckib. He
wanted them instantly, and it was really
most annoying that his papers never
could be left where he put them.
What Mrs. Gwynne had done with the
accounts was to keep them very carefully
all the year round and to balance them
accurately only ten days ago. They were
safely and handily stored in a drawer
of her writing-table, and were produced
without a moment's delay. Mr. Gwynne
took them impatiently, just glanced at the
last written page, gave a grunt which
seemed to say that, thank Heaven, they
were not this time in such utter confusion
as might have been expected ; and was
going out of the room without having
spoken a word to Heme. When the
rector was busy he was not very mindful
of the dues of others, especially of people
against whom he had a grudge.
His wife recalled him to courtesy :
LADY LAURA. 75
* Harvey, you are forgetting that Maurice
will be gone before you come in.'
* Oh, I thought you would be here to
luncheon probably,' he said, taking his
wife's hint, without, however, acknow-
ledging it by look or gesture. (The part
left for Mrs. Gwynne in married life
included much trouble and Httle thanks.)
'I'm sorry I cannot stay, but I'm
obhged to walk up to the schools imme-
diately. I suppose it would not suit you
to walk so far with me ? '
The invitation was not given very
graciously, but Heme accepted it all the
same, not being deshous of prolonging
his visit at the rectory. He walked up
to the schools with his uncle, who dis-
coursed much, by the way, on the impos-
sibility of getting anything to go right
in a parish where Methodism had once
set its foot. 'I declare,' he said, warming
to his subject and growing confidential
76 LADY LAURA.
in the absence of contradiction, — for
Heme, absorbed by other thoughts, did
not trouble himself to argue, but listened
in silence, which his uncle was at liberty
to interpret as he liked, — ^ I declare I
would rather they were all rank atheists
— one knows what to be at with a man
like Heasman there. But these ranters,
with their texts and their hypocritical
psalm-singing, bewilder the people till
they don't know their right hand from
their left, and can't see that insubordina-
tion isn't Christianity. And what in-
creases tenfold the difficulty of dealing
with them is that you can never get a
woman to see this question of dissent in
a reasonable light.' It was ungrateful
of Mr. Gwynne to say this, for Anna
saw the question in exactly the same
light that he did, which was what he
meant by a reasonable light. But the
rector was of an exacting temper that
LADY LAURA. yj
disposed him to value little the easily
won agreement of persons like minded
with himself ; he regarded their opinions
as mere subsidiary clauses included in his
own convictions, while the opinions of
those who did not agree with him, though
worthless in themselves, were so many
affronts to his importance which he could
not afford to overlook. The result was
that the feelings of Mrs. Gwynne and
Cassandra were taken as representative
of the feelings of all women, while
those of Anna were simply ignored. So
Mr. Gwynne considered that no woman
could he got to see Dissent in its true
colours, because as he told Maurice,
^ Nothing that I can say will hinder my
wife from behaving in the same way to
the Dissenters and the Church people.
And Cassandra is as bad ; she has not left
me a moment's peace this week because
I have advised my clerk,' — Mr. Gywnne
78 LADY LAURA.
always said mij clerk and my church
and my schoolmaster, — ' because I have
advised my clerk not to let a cottage
of his, that has just fallen vacant, to a
dissenting family up at the other end of
the village. But I am forgetting that
you will probably take her side.'
^ I am afraid I should,' said Heme ;
'but I have not time this morning to
discuss the question. I ought to be
getting back to the castle.'
' Ah, well ! good-bye. I am glad to
have seen you again. I suppose you are
likely to be in these parts again some
of these days ? '
* I suppose so,' said Heme, though in
truth that was a point he had been
revolving in his mind with much uncer-
tainty, as he walked from the rectory to
the school, and continued to revolve with
unceasing perplexity in the course of the
further walk from the school to the castle.
LADY LAURA. 79
Since last evening, he had come to
see at least a prophetic truth in the
words Cassandra had spoken on the
evening of his first coming to Ardgwen.
He had no business there, and must
either make this visit his last or come
back as the declared suitor of one or
other of the women whose affections he
He had come to one of those cross-
roads of life where every course points to
an event for which, when it is accom-
pHshed, we must ever feel remorse, though
our self-reproach becoming articulate
has no severer rebuke for us than the
simple statement that we ought to have
been elsewhere. The false position in
which he undeniably stood towards both
Laura and Cassandra was only so far his
fault that it resulted from the inaction
and indecision that had crippled all his
career. It was one of those remote
8o LADY LAURA.
consequences of omission — sad children
of our unfaithfulness — that persistently
reveal themselves to our confusion and
dishonour, claiming equal descent with
the more creditable results of action
to which we are so proud to give our
name. We try to disown them, we
appeal to the world whether they are
like us — like our promises, our principles,
our intentions. And the world answers
with a sneer that they are very like us
— like our weakness and our wayward-
ness and our neglected opportunities.
The parentage is proved, and the past
hangs as a millstone round our neck.
Heme hardly attempted to justify
himself in his present dilemma. He was
more concerned to discover the way out
of it — more anxious if possible to console
Cassandra than to establish that she
was to blame for needing consolation.
He could not turn with indifference
LADY LAURA, 8i
from the desolate life that had cried
involuntarily to his. He could not find
much satisfaction in the reflection that,
had her attitude been less enigmatical
seven years ago, events would have taken
a different course and their united lives
might have achieved all that they had
failed in singly.
He asked himself why the union might
not be even now. Cassandra was the
same woman at thirty that he had loved
at three-and-twenty. He still admired
her, he still desired her friendship, he
still courted her approval and winced
under her reproach. But it was no
longer Cassandra but Laura who ap-
peared to him as the inspiring angel of
Not that he had ever definitely pro-
posed to himself to make Laura his
wife ; the difficulties that Cassandra had
pointed out with such merciless truth-
VOL. II. 6
82 LADY LAURA.
fulness had been tacitly recognised by
him all along, and though he could not
conceal from himself that every thought
of new effort had been lately linked with
thought of Laura, he had been content
hitherto to couple himself with her in
vague dreams. Now however words had
been spoken which brought the question
out of the region of dreams. Cassandra
had told him plainly that Laura cared
for him, and it behoved him as an
honourable man either to come forward
definitely and take his chance of winning
her in spite of the objections he anti-
cipated from her family, or to withdraw
altogether and allow her to recover
from the impression he had made upon
her feehngs before it had deepened to an
His purpose in going to see Cassandra
had not been very clearly stated t®
himself. But he had hoped by a quiet
LADY LAURA. 83
interview with her to arrive at a more
accurate measure of his feelings than
he was conscious of possessing at pre-
sent. Having missed her, lie thought
the best thing he could do was to carry
out his intention of going to Llanoun.
' The April's in lier eyes ; it is Love's spring,
And these the showers to bring it on. '
LANOXIN was certainly a very-
pleasant house to stay in and
Lady Sarah a most charming
hostess. So said all the world, and so
thought Maurice Heme, to whom it
seemed that in coming to the Tremadocs'
he had travelled hack to the pleasant
time of his autumn visit to Ardgwen.
Lady Sarah received him with entire
cordiality, taking up the subjects they
had discussed together at the point
where they had left them, and, by her
eagerness to show him the working of
LADY LAURA. 85
her schemes and her solicitude for his
approval of them, making him feel that
her interest in him had been a genuine
one, and not merely a passing fancy to be
forgotten in a succession of other inter-
Lady Sarah was rather famous for
her friendships. She attracted to herself
people of marked individuality, and made
firm alliances with them in spite of wide
differences of character and conviction.
She would say, ' I am I — you are you.
I have no theories, I belong to no school.
I never made a proselyte in my life and
never mean to let any one make one of
me. But it amuses me to look at the
world through other people's spectacles,
and I like all people who have the sense
to be themselves.' What she liked in
others she realised in her own Hfe, and
her great charm probably came from the
instinctive wisdom with which she always
86 LADY LAURA.
was herself. To it doubtless was due
the great success that attended all her
undertakings and seemed a quality of
her mind communicating itself to her
work rather than a happy crowning
from without ; and fi'om it resulted a
certain artistic completeness in her life
and character which disarmed criticism
and won approval even from those whose
most cherished prejudices she ventured
to oppose. Her frank disclaimer of any
regulating principle beyond her taste and
of any test outside experience, gave to
all she said and did the character of an
exception, which like all exceptions
might be considered to prove the rule it
broke. And so when she ran a tilt
against conventionalities, the most con-
ventional people felt that they might give
a rare indulgence to their natural man
and admire the hardy stroke, fearless of
establishing a dangerous precedent. If
LADY LAURA. 87
she wanted to know people who were not
entitled to be known in her section of
society, she said, not ' The So-and-so's
are worthy people and ought to be in-
vited,' but ^ I like them, and I want to
have them at my parties.' If she wished
to reform the dress of her housemaid,
she did not denounce the iniquity of
fashion out of place, but attacked a
special gown as unbecoming, and sug-
gested in its place some garment of her
own contriving, possibly a pattern from
her own wardrobe which she had already
recommended by wearing it herself. If
she wanted her husband to make any
new arrangements on his estate, to im-
prove cottages or build new ones, she
begged the reform as a gratification of a
personal whim, and seldom failed to gain
her point. And so it came about that,
though she made no proselytes, she
obtained much influence and made her
88 LADY LAURA,
mark on all around her. And at the
same time, by dint of looking through
other people's spectacles, she uncon-
sciously borrowed much from minds un-
like her own. Some conscious borrowing
she did also, in the way of buying up
waste talents and making people serve
her ends without believing in them. All
was grist that came to her mill, and
many who had failed to make their
talents serve ends of their own imagin-
ing, or who lacked faith in any ends to
serve, were glad to do journeyman's work
under so confident a head.
There was at this moment a large
party assembled in the house. The
Courtenays had come over with the
party from Ardgwen, to the great satis-
faction of Egmont, whose devotion to the
pretty Eva was becoming serious. The
"Walworths were there, and Lady Mary
Vane. Then there was a sprinkling of
LADY LAURA. 89
friends from tlie outer world. Mr. Burr ell
Jones, a London clerg}^man of liberal doc-
trine and bright genial outlook — a mas-
sive man with a splendid physique that
disposed him to aesthetic enjoyment and
coloured his Christianity with a refined
sensuousness that was very attractive to
a prosperous generation little incHned to
quahfy itself for entrance into the gates
of life by any process of maiming and
halting. His wife, a graceful woman
with pale wavy hair and placid smiles
that passed for beauty with the help of
a studiedly pictm^esque style of dress.
A German lady who played the piano
beautifully, but not quite beautifully
enough to succeed professionally, as
Lady Walworth had intended her to
do, and who, having made her debut
last season in that lady's drawing-room
without creating the sensation that
was hoped from her, had sunk back
90 LADY LAURA.
into obscurity, where Lady Scarah's
friendship had come to her consolingly.
And last but not least, Lady Sarah's
sworn champion and ally, Mr. Walter
Fenton, w^ho deserves to be introduced to
the reader at greater length than the
He w^as a man of miscellaneous talent
and whimsical character whom society
had once hailed as a genius, but had
long given up as a riddle not to be
solved. Some ten or tw^elve years ago
he had gained a sudden fame as a painter
by exhibiting at the Eoyal Academy a
series of ideal heads of rare beauty.
But since then he had done nothing, or
at least had given nothing to the world.
His studio was full of vague sketches and
unfinished attempts, and to the few inti-
mate friends who were admitted within
it he was in the habit of defending his
unproductiveness by comparing himself
LADY LAURA. 91
to the prophet who went out to curse
and was constrained to bless, with the
difference that in his case he tried to
bless and succeeded only in cursing. He
seemed to be dominated by a genius of
despair. Gifted with a body and mind
tremulously sensitive to every charm
of beauty in the moral and physical
world, he was unable to find enjoyment
anywhere by reason of a mastering
sense of the transient character of all
good, of the blank purposelessness of
life and the futility of endeavour : every
idea turned to tragedy as he dwelt on it,
and subjects, chosen for their beauty as
worthy of representation in art, were one
after another dismissed by him, always
for the same reason that some latent
ugliness had revealed itself.
The friendship between Mr. Fenton
and Lady Sarah was of old standing,
dating as far back as her unmarried days.
92 LADY LAURA.
And some said that lie had then cherished
a hopeless passion for her, and that it was
her marriage with Mr. Tremadoc that was
the death-hlow to his career as a painter.
It may have been so, but Lady Sarah
certainly did not suspect the attachment,
and the frankness of their relations was
never impaired by it — nor did it prevent
a cordial friendship between him and
Mr. Tremadoc. He stayed so frequently
at Llanoun that he was generally looked
upon as part of the family. The children
were devoted to him, and showed their
devotion, after the manner of children,
by making him devote himself to them.
He covered the nursery walls with quaint
sketches, and enlivened nursery-teas by
telling fantastic fairy - stories full of
grotesque humour and subtle pathos, at
which they laughed and cried in turn,
missing nothing but the undertone of
cynicism that was never absent from any-
LADY LAURA. 93
thing lie did or said. To Lady Sarah
herself he was serviceable as a mediaeval
knight to his mistress in chivalry, only
his service was of a more useful kind
than one fancies that of the errant
knight to have been. He entered with
a sort of impartial sympathy into her
plans for the improvement of the people
about her, shrugging his shoulders a
little at her optimist views, but none the
less ready to help her in carrying them
out because he had no faith in their
containing any lasting good. Lady
Sarah was keen about popular education,
and when first she came to Llanoun she
had made great efforts to reform the
teaching in the village schools. Without
being at all a learned woman, she pos-
sessed that general understanding of the
scope and meaning of knowledge that
cultured surroundings yield so readily to
women of intelligencCj and her desire
94 LADY LAURA.
was that the knowledge, which she herself
rather saw than grasped, should be im-
parted in as full a measure as possible to
all others. She had tried to start classes
of elementary science, learning herself
in order that she might teach; but
between her own ignorance and the
prejudice of others she had had little
success, and for once in her life she was
almost in despair. In her difficulty she
had taken Mr. Fenton into counsel, and
he had come very readily to her help,
entering quickly into her ideas and tax-
ing all his knowledge and his ingenuity
to devise means for putting them into
practice. From that time forward he
was her constant counsellor in all her
undertakings, and there was no smallest
reform made among the villagers of
Llanoun for which he was not largely
responsible. It was a curious alliance
this, between the practical-minded woman
LADY LAURA. 95
moving sanely among the positive facts
and healthy pm'poses of life, and the
sceptical visionary whose life-purposes
had foundered hopelessly in the deep
waters of impossible dreams and ideals
too fair for a world careless on the whole
of bettering — an alliance not without
ludicrous aspects, but at the same time
full of pathetic meanings for those who
had eyes to read them. To Lady Sarah
herself the thing was perfectly simple ;
to Fenton it was not stranger than any
other phenomenon of life. That doubt
should work out the ends of faith,
that genius should fetch and carry for
common-sense, that gifts once grudged to
any work short of the highest and com-
pletest should in the end be used to
patch and darn the common-place life of
an obscure fishing- village, — all this was
but in keeping with the general irony of
things in a universe of which the story
96 LADY LAURA.
was an involvecl paradox and the end a
In such a large and mixed party it was
easy for Heme to carry out his resolution
of holding aloof from Laura and observing
her at a distance, especially as she did
her best to avoid him, and threw a
marked coldness into her manner on
the occasions on which they inevitably
came together. They both played their
parts so well that they had been a
week at Llanoun, meeting continually,
often for hours in each other's presence,
and yet no word had passed between
them that was not quite common-place.
Heme was to go back to London on
the next day, and Lam-a was once
more looking forward to a deliverance
that would leave her desolate ; for the
renewed intercourse with him had dis-
pelled the illusion with which she had
comforted herself while he was away ; and
she could no longer hide from herself that
her attachment was deepening homiy,
even in spite of the indifference with
which he now treated her. She had no
right to resent this indifference, for she
had never allowed herself to think he had
meant more than friendship in their former
intercourse, and it was only natural that
the persistent coldness of her own manner
should at length have chilled his. She
knew, indeed, that she ought to rejoice
in it as saving her from temptations which
she would have been weak to fight against,
had they arisen. But to rejoice was be-
yond her strength, — she suffered keenly
imder his neglect, and in spite of all her
efforts to appear happy an indefinable
sadness became visible in her manner.
The difficulty of maintaining an un-
conscious air was increased for her by
the watchful solicitude that her failing
spu'its awakened in her sisters. She felt
VOL. II. 7
98 LADY LAURA.
that they observed her suspiciously ; and
every moment of the day became com-
plicated for her by some new necessity of
dissimulation — every simplest action was
liable to be misunderstood. If she threw
herself in the way of meetings with
Heme, they looked at her; if she went
out of her way to avoid him, they looked
at her. Only this morning she had
refused to be one of a walking party
because she had calculated that, in the
inevitable pairing off on the road, it
would fall to her lot to walk with
Heme. The party consisted of Mr.
Tremadoc, the Walworths, Mr. Burrell
Jones, Egmont, and Eva Courtenay. Mr.
Tremadoc and Lord Walworth would walk
together and talk politics. Lady Walworth
would take possession of Mr. Jones, and
Egmont never lost an opportunity of
being at Eva's side. There would be no
alternative for her but to walk with
LADY LAURA. 99
Heme ; so she made lame excuses and
stayed at home.
But now as she sat by the fire, working
at some embroidery for Sarah, which she
had made her pretext for staying indoors,
she felt that Lady Mary, sitting opposite
to her, was neglecting the book in her
hand to peep over its edges and discover
the true reason of her refusal to go out.
She worked on with increasing assiduity,
but her fingers trembled, and the stitches
went awry. She turned hot and cold
alternately in expectation of the sermon
she believed to be hatching for her ; and
when at last her sister spoke, she had
reached such a point of embarrassment
that she did not know how to answer,
though the matter was after all quite
*This is a very remarkable book,' said
Lady Mary ; ^ you should read it, Laura.
It contains many ideas which, I feel,
loo LADY LAURA.
would have been of inestimable value to
me if I had come upon them at your
age. It is the great misfortune of
most women that they learn everything
when it is too late.'
' What is the book about ? ' asked
^ It is a collection of essays on various
problems of life, addressed chiefly to
women. There is one on waste that is
excellent — most excellent : I should like
to put it into the hands of every woman
in the country. One on marriage, which
is good also, though I think it makes too
much of the superiority of the married life
to the single.' (Lady Mary regarded
her own matrimonial venture as the
great mistake of her life, pardonable only
for the sake of the right it gave her
to speak depreciatingly of matrimony in
general.) * Then there is one on education,'
she continued, ^ which is very able; it
LADY LAURA. loi
lias some points in it that I am not aware
of having ever seen stated before, and
which are most important. And there are
others — on health, on dress, on beanty.
The essay on beauty is very striking. It
justifies the love of beauty by pointing
out how all true beauty has some real
utility at the bottom of it — how, for in-
stance, a fine figure is one in which all
the organs of digestion and respii'ation
have abundant room to work, and a good
complexion is the normal appearance of
the skin when the blood is in a healthy
condition, and so on through a great
variety of cases. I have always felt
that there must be some solid reason for
the satisfaction even superior people find
in these things, — which otherwise would
be so very unimportant.'
Lady Mary had looked away from
Laura now, and was complacently con-
templating her own person in a mirror
I02 LADY LAURA.
that hung conveniently on the opposite
wall. She had the fine form and colouring
that belonged to her family, and had
always valued them, in spite of the early
bent of her mind towards science ; and
while listening to lectures at the Royal
Institution it had never been a matter of
indifference to her that she was the hand-
somest woman who sat on its benches
—nor was she unconscious of the becom-
ing character of the plain black velvet
gowns which she habitually wore. But
vanity was a weakness inconsistent with
the part in life she had chosen to play,
and therefore she believed herself to be
free from it. When she had satisfied her-
self that her figure was ample enough to
allow free play to the vital organs, and
her complexion of the tint produced
by duly oxygenated blood, she looked
back at Laura and observed that she was
LADY LAURA. 103
'I think you did wrongly,' slie said,
' in not going out this morning. You
are looking rather white and pasty, as
if you had not enough oxygen in your
' It is not natural to me to have much
colour,' Laura answered. ^ I am always
pale; but I think I am very well.'
There was a slight melancholy in
Laura's voice as she said that she was
always pale. Without being exactly
vain, she had not formerly been dis-
contented with her looks ; but she was
beginning to think rather poorly of herself
now that she seemed so little attractive
to another. Lady Mary noticed the
melancholy note, and it confirmed her
in her belief that Laura was out of
health — delicate girls were always in
danger of becoming sentimental.
* It is true,' she said, ^ that you are
generally pale, but I believe it is only
104 LADY LAURA.
because you are not strong. And I am
convinced that there is nothing like
morning exercise for health. That is
one of the points this man emphasises
most. I wish I could find the passage
again to read to you — hut when one
wants a thing it always seems to have
gone out of the hook.'
Lady Mary fluttered the pages back-
wards and forwards, without however
turning up the passage she wanted ; she
gave up the quest and began reading
another essay. Soon she spoke again.
* Oh, here is something else that I
wanted to show you — some remarks on
love, that are really wonderfully sensible.
Listen,' and she began to read : * ^' There
are few reforms in the education of girls
that would tend more to their happiness
in after-life than a radical change in the
tone of society and of books on the sub-
ject of love. To assume a 'priori that
LADY LAURA. 105
every marriage is based on love, and that
every so-called love-affair is a mysterious
and sacred romance " '
' Oh, please don't read any more,' cried
Lam-a, realising that this was the text,
and that the sermon would follow imme-
diately if she did not make an energetic
protest. ' I hate people who write in
that sort of business-like way about love.
It always sounds to me indecent.'
Lady Mary drew herself up a little.
' I am sorry you think my taste in read-
' I beg your pardon,' said Laura ; ^ of
course I did not mean that, and I
daresay the man is quite right in what
he says. Only I always do hate things
about love — especially for reading loud.
I will read it to myself if you think it
would be useful.'
Laura's penitence was genuine. She
felt so utterly astray in her feelings just
io6 LADY LAURA.
now, that she was disposed to think most
people knew better than herself. Only
she could not undergo a discourse from
the sister with whom she had least
sympathy, on the subject on which she
knew she would be most unsympathetic.
She held out her hand for the book,
but Lady Mary held it back.
' I do not want you to read it if you
are prejudiced against it. But I think it
is a pity to refuse to hear things because
they happen not to be on one's own
side of the question.' And Lady Mary
leaned back in her chair, and held the
book up before her face as if to say that
the question was settled.
Laura bent over her work, but her
eyes filled with tears and she could not
see to set her stitches. Suddenly she
heard voices in the hall — the walkers had
returned, and they would come into the
room in another minute. She started
LADY LAURA. 107
up, and, hastily collecting her working
materials, made her escape through a
side door — regardless of Lady Mary's
observation on her eagerness to be gone
before the others came.
The door by which she fled led into
a long corridor at the end of which was
a pretty little room that seldom was used
by any one but Laura, who had got into
the way of considering it her special
sanctum whenever she was staying at
Llanoun. Thinking to take refuge there
now, she ran along the passage and
opened the door hurriedly.
She had counted on finding the room
empty, but to her surprise it was full of
people, and she stopped confusedly on the
threshold. Mr. Jones and Mr. Fenton
were standing in the window discussing
some designs that were scattered on a
table, Mr. Jones criticizing in a loud voice
and Mr. Fenton quietly defending —
io8 LADY LAURA.
while Lady Sarah was explaining to
Heme in an under-tone that the designs
were of Mr. Fenton's doing. Lady
Walworth, seated a little apart, was
watching the group with evident amuse-
ment. She was the only one who saw
Laura's abrupt entrance and the con-
fused blush and start with which she
attempted to withdraw on finding the
room occupied. Laura, painfully alive
to her sister's observation^ thought for
a moment that the amused expression
on Eachel's face had reference to herself.
But she was quickly reassured. Eachel's
humour was abundantly fed for the mo-
ment by what was passing in the window,
and she was only interested in Laura's
entrance in so far as it promised her
sympathy in her amusement.
^ Don't run away,' she said ; ^ we are
looking at the designs Mr. Fenton has
made for the decoration of the schools.
LADY LAURA. 109
Tliis is the Palace of Truth, and we are
all to speak our unvarnished opinions.
Mr. Jones is getting up our courage by
setting us a good example.'
* Have you seen them, Lady Laura ? '
said Heme, turning towards her as soon
as he was conscious of her presence.
He handed her one of the sketches, and
his voice sounded as if he wanted to
hear her opinion. A bright flush came
into her cheeks, and she felt suddenly
happy. Their hands touched as she
took the paper fi'om him, but she took
care that their eyes should not meet.
' I am afraid my opinion will not be
of any use,' she said. ' You know that
I do not understand art.' She spoke to
Heme and remained standing by him —
he was less terrible to her than her
* I know you always say so,' he an-
swered, '■ but none of us are to be diffident
no LADY LAURA.
any more, for Mr. Fenton lias told us
that we are all to consider ourselves com-
petent judges. He only stipulates for
our speaking the truth. Is not that it ? '
^Certainly,' said Mr. Fenton; ^I have
great confidence in the instinctive judg-
ments of cultivated people on matters
of taste, — especially of women.'
Lady Walworth held up her hands.
' This from you ! I thought you were
the sworn enemy of women-artists.'
' So I am. Women are aesthetic but
they are not artistic ; they make an
excellent audience, hut very poor actors
as a rule. Lady Laura will not suspect
me of flattery, I am sure, if I say that
I would rather have her good opinion
of a picture I had painted than that of
a whole army of male critics. And I
am sure Mr. Jones will agree with me,
though of course his experience lies in
a different department of art.'
LADY LAURA. in
A smile went round the room, and
then Mr. Fenton, having revenged him-
self on the preacher, turned quietly to
Laura and began explaining to her the
idea of his design. Laura had recovered
self-possession by this time and she
listened with interest ; she entered into
the subject with her usual quickness of
sympathy, and made one or two sugges-
tions that were received with decided
approbation by the artist. Uncon-
sciously she was soon taking the lead in
^ Why, Laura,' said Lady Sarah, 'you
are coming out in a new light. I thought
3^ou rather despised art. If I had sus-
pected you of all these ideas I should
have made you help me long ago. Don't
you agree with me, Mr. Heme, that it
is very unfair to have valuable ideas
and to keep them under lock and key?'
' Certainly,' said Heme. ' But Lady
112 LADY LAURA.
Laura has solemnly assured me that she
knows nothing about art.'
Laura looked up at him with a per-
* I should never have thought of calling
this art,' she said.
^ You are like Monsieur Jourdain,' said
Fenton ; ^ you talk art without knowing
it and so escape a great many blunders.'
It was a new sensation to Laura to
find her opinion valued by her sister's
clever friends, and though she blushed
and felt a little confused, it was undeni-
ably pleasant to her. She brightened
up under the influence of it, and looked
more than usually pretty. Heme forgot
prudence and allowed himself to look
at her with manifest admiration. Now
that his visit to Llanoun was so nearly
at an end, the resolution with which he
had begun it seemed likely to be set
LADY LAURA. 113
As they left the room he joined Laura
and said, —
* I am grateM to Mr. Fenton for his
theory about women. I see now that
you are justified in neither painting, sing-
ing, nor playing : your part is to under-
stand and suggest.'
Laura smiled and tried to answer, but
her inspiration was at an end. She felt
singularly incapable of either understand-
ing or suggesting, and without going
through the form of excusing herself, she
hurried away from Heme in the direction
of the drawing-room. The door was
open, and, as she approached it, she
caught the sound of her own name. Her
sisters were all there, evidently discuss-
ing her. Without thinking what she
ought to do, she stood and listened.
^ Laura herself assured me that there
was nothing between them,' Lady Sarah
VOL. II. 8
114 LADY LAURA.
* That was three months ago/ said
Lady Walworth ; ' there has been time
for a whole three-volume novel to spin
itself since then. I think one of us had
better speak to her.'
* What good can we do ? ' said Sarah's
voice again. ^ We shall only make her
unhappy. In my opinion the kindest
thing is to say nothing, but just to save
her from the pain of meeting him any
more. Unless, indeed, it were not better
to let the thing take its course.'
There was an unusual tone of doubt-
fulness in Sarah's voice as she said this.
Lady Mary was the next to speak.
^ I thought you assured us just now
that Laura was safe because Maurice
Heme was going to marry Cassandra.
He cannot marry them both ; and I don't
think a course that ends in Laura's
breaking her heart about Cassandra's
husband will be very edifying. To my
LADY LAURA. 115
mind such collisions in love are in-
The last word was prompted by a
spirit of retaliation. Lady Mary was
still smarting under Laura's application
of it to her author's manner.
^ But who vouches for the attachment
to Cassandra ? ' asked Eachel ' I should
be inclined to doubt it myself. Men
don't, as a rule, like that sort of incal-
culable woman — especially when she is
nearly related to them. What have you
got to go upon, Sarah ? '
Sarah did not answer at once. She
was realising that she had in truth very
little to go upon — nothing, in fact, but
Laura's belief that such an attachment
existed. After a pause she said, ' Per-
haps it is a mistake about Cassandra. It
certainly struck me as odd that she
should refuse to come here now. Perhaps
there is nothing in it.'
ii6 LADY LAURA.
^It strikes me,' said Lady Mary, *tliat
it is rather derogatory to Laura's dignity
to discuss the question entirely in relation
to Cassandra. This fancy for Maurice
Heme is foolish in itself and ought to be
discouraged on that ground alone. I was
on the point of warning her this morning,
but she rushed out of the room with tears
in her eyes, and I thought I had better
wait for another opportunity.'
*Pray don't speak in a hurry,' said
Sarah, who knew how terrible such speak-
ing would probably be, and felt as much
concerned for Laura as if it had been
proposed to set the police upon her.
Lady Mary replied with dignity, *I
had no intention of speaking in a hurry,
and I am quite willing not to speak at
all if you will undertake to stop the affair.
But that it must be stopped somehow I
am very certain.'
^ Why ? ' said Sarah, with sudden bold-
LADY LAURA. 117
ness. ^ Why should it be stopped ?
Maurice Heme is a good man and a
gentleman, and we all like him, and he
and Laura would suit one another. For-
give me, Mary, but I think you do not
quite understand all that that means in
Lady Sarah did not stay to see the
effect of this speech. She was, in truth,
a little frightened at her boldness, for
Lady Mary held that sort of ascendency
over her sisters that generally belongs to
the least amiable member of a family
whose judgments are not to be disputed
for fear of the consequences. She could
not, Hke Sarah, look upon other people's
opinions as varieties resulting from differ-
ence of character; nor, like Kachel, as
amusing vagaries giving spuit to the
comedy of life. She viewed all questions
with ultra-seriousness, and all her
opinions were rigid as moral axioms —
Ii8 LADY LAURA.
deflection fi'om which implied a pre-
carious moral balance in the deflector.
Lady Sarah had the reputation in society
of being a singularly fearless woman;
nevertheless this was the first time in her
life that she had openly defied her eldest
sister ; and having done it, her next step
was flight. She crossed Laura in the
doorway, and they looked guiltily at one
another ; but neither spoke, and Laura's
entrance checked further remark on the
part of the other sisters.
It had been agreed that the impromptu
committee who had discussed the designs
in the morning should walk down to the
schools directly after luncheon and meet
the local decorator who was to be en-
trusted with the task of execution. Laura
could not possibly escape being of the
party ; indeed, since the conversation she
had overheard in the morning, her one
object was to avoid Ute-a-Utes with her
LADY LAURA. 119
sisters, and to go out was the surest way
of doing this. For Lady Mary, in spite
of her theories, was lazy about walking ;
and Lady Walworth declared herself too
tired with the exercise she had taken in
the morning to go out again. She did
not mind Lady Sarah ; and she thought
she would manage to walk chiefly with
Mrs. Jones, whose absent smiles were
famous for discouraging conversational
attack, and with whom one might con-
sequently walk in silence without making
Laura was not the only person who
started on the walk with a private plan
of action. Lady Sarah, since her open
defiance of her sister's opinion, felt that
it was incumbent upon her to take a
decided part in Laura's love-affair, and
that to this end she ought to arrive at
more definite knowledge than she yet
possessed of the feeling on both sides.
I20 LADY LAURA.
But she was sorely puzzled to know
how to do this. From any direct ques-
tioning of her sister she shrank with
an invincible repugnance. The silent
mystery of maidenhood in which Laura
moved was very sacred to the older
woman, and to break in upon it rudely
would have seemed to her a sacrilege.
On the whole it appeared to her that to
sound Heme would be the easier task.
And she promised herself that she would
make an opportunity of doing this in the
course of the afternoon's walk. Accord-
ingly she made an excuse for leaving
the school before the discussion was over,
and asked Heme to walk with her to a
fishing hamlet about a mile away. Her
errand done, they would walk back to
meet the rest of the party, and then all
go together to see the sunset on a
sandy reach that lay two miles on the
other side of Llanoun, where the car-
LADV LAURA. 121
riage had been ordered to meet them.
She thus made sure of at least a good
half-hour's Ute-a-Ute with Heme, in the
course of which she said to herself that
she could not fail to bring him to con-
However, when she found herself
alone with him, the task of inquisi-
tion seemed less easy than she had
judged it while she made her plans.
She talked of Laura, and he answered
in vague terms about women generally,
and their work in life ; she touched on
marriage and he was absolutely silent.
Then she started the subject of vocations
in life, speculating as to what on the
whole was the worthiest aim for a man
to set before himself in our times, mean-
ing him to understand in her remarks
an oblique questioning of his own drifting
career. She alluded to Mr. Fenton's
theory about women, and said she dis-
122 LADY LAURA.
sented from it. People ought to have
creative power in proportion to their
sensibility, and she could only value
men and women by what they succeeded
in being, not by what they might have
^ In short,' said Heme, ^ you have no
place in your philosophy for failures.'
^ No place for them among successes,
certainly. But then I don't think I
recognise as many failures as you pro-
bably do. I don't call people failures
merely because their particular hobbies
go shipwreck. On the whole I think
a man's hobby is generally his mad point,
which it is his business in life to get
Lady Sarah meant this as a challenge,
and she looked up at Heme in expec-
tation of denial. But Heme made no
^ Why don't you contradict me ? ' she
LADY LAURA. 123
said. * You know you are full of hobbies
and are waiting to begin your life till
you find a clear field for them, and
that you have a great contempt for
people like me who grope along with-
out exactly knowing where they are
going to. Why don't you defend the
hobby-riders ? '
' Because I am often tempted to feel
with you that hobby-riding is a mistake,
and to think that the sanest life is
the one that is least hampered by ab-
stract principles. Only unfortunately I
cannot succeed in getting my mad point
ground down. I cannot rest in the con-
clusion that henceforth man is to be
redeemed only piecemeal and by in-
dividual efforts, and that the world is
never again to experience one of the
vivifying movements that make the land-
marks of history. To talk in these days
of a new gospel is the surest way of
124 LADY LAURA.
raising a laugh, but yet I can see no
inherent absurdity in the idea, unless all
past religions have been absurd also.'
' Have you ever stated clearly to your-
self what the new gospel should be ? '
asked Lady Sarah.
* Very clearly once.'
* And now the vision has grown dim ? '
' It has.'
* Visions should grow clearer as we
advance in life. If they do not, we are
justified in counting them among the
phantoms that mislead us, not the
revelations that guide. WiU you tell
me what form your vision took ? '
^ That,' said Heme, * would be to
write its epitaph ; and my vision is not
quite dead. Within the last few months
it has come to me again in almost as
vivid form as it had in the beginning.
I will stiU hope to show it to you
LADY LAURA. 125
Lady Sarah had for a moment for-
gotten her part of inquisitor, and in
asking Heme for a confession of faith,
she had no thought of Laura in her
mind. But his answer told her all that
she wanted to know : ^ the last few
months ' could only mean ' since I have
known Laiu'a,' — the practical demon-
stration would come after they were
married. She said a mental Amen, and
then wondered to herself whether she
was justified in giving her sympathy to
a union of which the happiness must
depend on her sister's renunciation of
all her past hehefs.
The others came in sight. Laura was
walking in front with Mr. Fenton, who
was talking continuously as if he were
relating a story ; and she was listening
with the hright sympathy that makes
speech so easy. As they met, she said, —
' Mr. Fenton has heen telling me such
126 LADY LAURA.
beautiful stories of the old world, and
the last was the most beautiful of all.
Do you know the story of the Maid of
Craig-y-don, Mr. Heme ? '
To take the first opportunity of ad-
dressing Heme was a course hardly
consistent with the plans with which
Laura had come out. But how shall
one hinder iron from turning towards the
magnet, or look and speech from going
where sympathy attracts ?
Heme answered that he did not know
the story. Would Laura tell it him ?
And he reminded her that she had once
promised to tell him a story and never
done it. Laura remembered, and said
she would pay the debt.
Mr. Fenton's story was one of those
primitive allegories in which the human
conscience everywhere has expressed its
sense of the universal strife between good
and evil, by investing surrounding scenery
LADY LAURA, 127
with moral meanings and transforming
the working forces of natiu'e into demons
and fairies of the hearth. The fancy
of a Gaehc bard had found an image of
virgin innocence in a white rock that
stood out lonely among the breakers ;
and, in the sea that tossed and moaned
around it, the likeness of a demon lover
wooing the white-robed maiden — now
with strong embrace of circling waves,
now with gentle murmur of caressing
ripple — wooing with irresistible per-
suasion through the long centmies of
change that had elapsed since the old
dim time when tradition said that the
white rock had stood inland a quarter of
The story in simple outline was
familiar to all the fishing population
of the neighbourhood, and mothers
made a convenient proverb of the bold
lass who had left her father's roof to
128 LADY LAURA.
tempt the waves in company with a
strange lover and been requited for her
forwardness by abandonment in deep
water. In telUng the story to Laura,
Mr. Fenton had added much to the
original legend, developing many latent
meanings and analogies, and clothing
the whole with quaint imagery and
fantastic detail of his own conceiving,
so that the allegory was lost sight of;
and she had listened with delight as to a
true-life story of a world gone by. But
when she began to tell it herself to
Heme, it struck her with new and em-
barrassing significance. She hurried to
the end, saying as she finished, —
' After all the beauty must have been
in the telling. I do not care for it
now. It is too tragic'
' Not more tragic than life,' said
^ But it is grim.'
LADY LAURA. 129
* So is life, — gi'im, sad, tragic. The
blighted life lays hold on the life that is
just budding, and di'ags it down to perdi-
tion. The depths of misery call to the
depths of joy, and joy answers the call
and is swallowed up by miseiy. Light
goes out in darkness, sweetness of inno-
cence in bitterest remorse. It is the old
story of the two powers of Evil and Good
contending through the ages, and Evil
^ Oh don't ! ' interrupted Laura ; ' you
^Forgive «ie,' said Fenton ; ^ I am a
brute. But you see this is an illustration
of what I was saying, — any dismal raven
that has the fancy to croak can njake the
angels weep. We must get Mr. Jones to
preach us a sermon on the beautiful
harmonies of nature in which evil plays
the part of an agreeable discord, or disso-
nance, or diminished something — what is
VOL. II. 9
I30 LADY LAURA,
the right phrase, Lady Sarah ? I heard
Fraulein Stahl explaining it to you yes-
Lady Sarah had been talking apart to
Mr. Burrell Jones. They now joined the
other group ; and conversation became
general. Mr. Jones was eloquent about
beauty and art, and said that for his part
he did not exactly believe in evil. Lady
Sarah said she thought there was a great
deal of evil in the world, but that on the
whole good was the stronger power.
Mrs. Jones agreed with hei^usband and
smiled vaguely at Mr. Fen^n's thrusts.
Only Heme and Laura were silent ; and
by-and-by they found themselves walking
together a little behind the others.
Laura was absorbed in the thoughts
that Fenton's cynical outburst had
awakened. This mystery of Good and
Evil had been exercising her mind con-
tinually of late — seeming as the statement
LADY LAURA. 131
in large of the personal problem that
tormented her ; and her mind continually
lost itself in contradictions, while her
Jieart shrank in terror fi'om a chaotic
world in which right and wrong were
so inseparably mixed that the wisest
and strongest disagreed among them-
selves, and the ignorant knew not
to whom to look for guidance. Till
lately all her philosophy had been to
trust and to believe ; but now she found
the instinct of trust and the habit of
beHef ranged upon opposite sides. The
voice that commanded her sympathies
spoke words that outraged the traditions
in which she had been reared : the
suggestions against which it seemed a
duty to do unrelenting battfe came in
tones that were as the echo of a sweet
mi^sic in herself. And when her per-
plexity was greatest, the strongest
impulse of her being was to tiurn
132 LADY LAURA.
for help to tlie quarter in which her
danger lay. Against this impulse she
was battling with ebbing force as she
walked in silence by Heme's side. Sud-
denly it mastered her and she said — ,
' Do you think it is true what Mr.
Fenton said just now ? Surely it cannot
be that good is so weak, and evil so
strong, and that the battle between the
two always ends in the triumph of evil.
It is too terrible to be true.'
^ I think it is so far true that, in the
struggle with wrong, right always loses
* Then,' said Laura, ' you agree with
Mr. Fenton that wrong is always vic-
torious ? '
There was a great sadness in her voice.
She hadhoped, nay, she hadbeen sure, that
Heme would not agree with Fenton ;
and now she felt that he was passing
sentence of despair upon the world.
LADY LAURA. 133
But Heme had not meant liis words to
be so taken, and he hastened to explain.
^ No, I do not agree to that. "Wliat I
mean is that wrong can only be cured
by much sacrifice of things ideally good.
But such sacrifice is not a sacrifice to
e^dl — it is a sacrifice of lesser good now
to greater good hereafter. Mr. Fenton
thinks it terrible that misery should call
to joy, and joy answer to the call. But
I cannot sympathise with him. That it
should be so, seems to me the only hope
for the future. And I daresay Mr. Fenton
himself would say so at another time.'
* I am sure you are right,' said Laura,
speaking with slow gravity — ^that is, if
you really mean what I think you do.
But then it is not at all what one is
generally told is right. It seems to me
that all the good that one has, all that
makes it possible for one to be better
than others, only fills one with remorse
134 LADY LAURA.
until one has found a way of sharing it
with those who have it not. I think, if
I had been Lazarus, I would not have
rested in Abraham's bosom while Dives
was crying to me out of his torment.'
^ I am sure you would not — you would
have come down from heaven when a
voice cried from hell.' And then, for he
did not wish to spoil the simplicity of
the scene by obtruding suggestions of a
personal nature, he added, * I believe all
good women feel as you do — your sister,
for instance, who spends all her thought
in devising good for the people about her.'
'Yes,' said Laura; * but then Sarah is
clever — all women cannot work as she
* There are other ways than work by
which women help the world to grow
better. They do it best by being simply
good themselves and giving their sym-
pathy to all right effort. Only unfortu-
LADY LAURA. 135
nately in these days the hest men are
going one way and the best women are
Laura looked up, asking him to speak
more plainly. It seemed to her that at
last the answer was coming for which she
liad been so long groping.
*Tell me what you mean,' she said.
' I have thought so often lately how sad
it is that people who are earnest-minded
and who might work together should have
so little sympathy. I cannot call people
bad when T know that they are seeking
good, and seeking it more earnestly than
I am myself. And yet '
' But yet it seems to you that some
people seek good by means that you have
been taught to believe lead only to evil.'
* Yes,' she said; *till sometimes I can
see no difference between good and evil,
and life seems a mad stru2foie, with no
136 LADY LAURA.
* There is no rest in the present,' said
Heme, ^ except for cowards who shirk the
He spoke bitterly, and Laura felt re-
buked — it did not occur to her that the
bitterness was against himself.
* Oh, it makes me tired to think of it,'
she said, * tired to think of this continual
battling. Do ijou never feel this ? But
I know you do not. Cassandra has told
me that you have gone bravely forward,
facing all the puzzling questions and
standing by your convictions whatever
they might cost you. And Egmont says
* Lady Laura,' said Heme, ^ you would
not say this if you knew me better. I
am one of the cowards who have shirked
He spoke in a hard, low voice that
gave distinctness and significance to
every word and made it impossible to
LADY LAURA. 137
put aside his self-condemnation as a
mere convention of speech. He meant
what he said, and Laura knew it. He
was expressing truly the bitter sense of
his failure and unworthiness. He was
telling her that the staff on which she
had thought to lean was but a reed
shaken by the wind. And she had no
choice but to believe him. He was weak
and astray like herself; there was no
help for her in the man for whose sake
she had unlearned her trust in God. She
could not answer — her disappointment
was too deep and terrible to be spoken,
and her lips would not shape themselves
to words of insincere consolation. For a
moment she looked at him with wonder-
ing compassion. Then her eyes filled
with tears, and she turned them away
towards the horizon.
The sun was sinking into the sea and
flooding all the scene with a crimson
138 LADY LAURA.
liaze in which objects lost distinctness
as though they were dissolving in the
glow of deepening colour. The sky
seemed close above their heads, — one
almost with the sea in which its glory
They had walked far out upon the
sands and were within a stone's throw
of the white rock that rose like a column
of opal-tinted mist above the tranquilly-
receding tide. The legend came back
to Laura's mind, and, with shuddering
horror, she felt that the fate of the Maid
of Craig-y-don was coming upon her.
She cast a frightened look backward
towards the beach where the rest of the
party were lingering ; but their figures
looked far-off and unreal, she could dis-
tinguish no one. She and Heme were
alone in the universe — alone and without
A great terror filled her mind, prompt-
LADY LAURA. 139
ing her one moment to fly and the next
to tiiiTL to Heme for the help he could
not give. Suddenly he spoke.
' I think I see them signing to us from
the beach/ he said. ' Had we not better
go back ? '
He spoke in his ordinary voice and
seemed quite unconscious of her distress.
She tried to turn tov^ards him and answer
in a matter-of-course way, but she could
not command herself. She was at the
extreme point of nervous tension that
may break at the most trivial incident
or indifferent word, and the sound of
his voice was more than she could
bear. Her tears could no longer be re-
strained — she strove to speak, but the
effort ended in a sob ; and she turned
away in helpless confusion. Heme could
not pretend unconsciousness any longer.
She was crying like a child before him,
and he knew why. What could he do
140 LADY LAURA.
but comfort her? He turned abruptly
to her and took her hand ; she let him
^You are unhappy,' he said. 'What
is it ? '
She did not withdraw her hand, but
neither did she answer.
* Will you not tell me what distresses
you ? ' he went on. * I might be able to
help you, and it would be a great happi-
ness to me to do so.'
' No, no,' she said, snatching her hand
away and speaking almost petulantly.
' You cannot help me. No one can help
me. I am foolish and weak and miser-
able. And there is no help anywhere.
You said so yourself, and I feel that it
'1 said it? When did I say it?
You have misunderstood me. I do not
remember saying anything of the kind.
When did I say there was no help ? '
LADY LAURA. 141
* Just now/ she answered. * When I
said that you were brave and strong, you
answered that you were not, and I felt
that you meant it — and — and ' She
broke off and looked imploringly towards
^ And was that what distressed you ? '
asked Heme, drawing nearer and taking
both her hands this time. ^ Is it on my
account that you are unhappy ? '
^ Oh, I do not know! Only it all seems
sad and hopeless to me. And I thought
you were strong, and you say you are
not. And I do not know what is right.
.... How can I sympathise with right
effort, if I clo not know what is right ? '
She made a feeble effort to withdraw
her hands ; but as he held them fast, she
desisted and looked up at him mth an
expression in which despair and trust
were strangely mingled. It was in vain
she repeated that he could not help her
142 LADY LAURA.
— she felt safe while he held her Lands in
his, she was almost comforted now that
he looked gently on her sorrow.
And he ?
He felt that he had refrained long
enough. Cassandra's warning and the
sad words in which she had betrayed
the long hunger of her life had haunted
him hitherto with forbidding power. But
the revelation of Laura's dependence on
his love had brought a rush of joy that
bore down all considerations of prudence
or of other claims. If Cassandra loved
him, Laura loved him also. If Cassandra
needed him, Laura needed him far more.
And he needed her. In the knowledge
that she loved him he felt a strength
that made all things seem possible ; and
it was not compassion only for her sad-
ness, or remorse for having caused it,
that made him hold her hands more
firmly the more elie struggled to get
LADY LAURA. 143
them free. It was a stronger feeling
than sympathy that prompted him to
say commandingly, ' Listen to me one
moment, and then I will let you go.'
She resigned her hands passively to
his grasp and looked down in silent
expectation of she knew not what. She
was so conscious of having hehaved
foolishly that she would not have been
surprised if he had scolded her like a
child — she was so willing to be ruled
by him that she would not have resented
his rebuke. She stood quite still and
waited for him to speak.
'Lady Laura,' he said, 'you tell me
I cannot help you because I am helpless
myself and unworthy and cowardly. Ifc
is true that I am all this — at least that
I was a moment ago, and should be still
if you had not given me back faith in
purity and goodness : you said that if
you had been Lazarus in heaven you
144 LADY LAURA.
would not have been happy while Dives
cried to you from his torments. You
said you would come down to hell if
you could make hell better by your
presence. Did you mean it ? — I want
you, Laura. I am asking you to help
me to be strong and to do and be all
that I once dreamed. Laura, I love
you, and I think '
But at the words ^ I love you,' she
started away from him and stopped
him with a look that he interpreted as
anger. Till then she had hardly under-
stood what he was saying. His voice
was full of passion, and the voice of
passion was new to her; it bewildered
her like a strange language of which
the rhythm stirs without conveying de-
finite ideas. All she had been sm-e of
was that he was not angry with her,
and that somehow he was exalting her
in the moment of her humiliation. And
LADY LAURA. 145
slie had listened as to a strain of sooth-
ing music — not caring to analyse the in-
fluence that comforted her. But when
he said he loved her, she could not
misunderstand any longer. She started
back and involuntarily looked up and
met his eyes. There was a look of
triumph in them from which she recoiled
in uncontrollable terror. What was he
going to do next? what had she done
that he should look at her like that?
She had wanted him to love her; but
she had not thought that love vv^ould
look like this.
She turned away and said in a voice
that had grown suddenly hoarse, ' Why
do we stay here ? It is late and chilly.
Let us go back to the others ; they
must be wondering what has become
Heme did not end his sentence.
Laura was already hurrying back across
VOL. n. 10
146 LADY LAURA.
the sands ; and he followed her mechani-
cally. As they walked along without
speaking, each felt the silence jarringly,
though neither could unravel the other's
mood. Heme feared that he had offended
Laura, and Laura felt herself the prey
to a vague dread like that which pos-
sesses the mind on awakening from
troubled sleep among unfamiliar sur-
The group on the beach, who had
disappeared for a httle while, now came
in sight again and made signs to them
to hasten. Lady Sarah was looking
anxiously at her watch. She had re-
membered an appointment at home and
was afraid she should be too late to
keep it. As they walked round to the
boat-house where the carriage was to
wait they were joined by an old sailor,
Owen Williams by name, who as coast-
guards-man and captain of the Llanoun
LADY LAURA. 147
lifeboat was rather an important person
in the neighbourhood. He knew all the
party except Heme, to whom Lady Sarah
introduced him as an old friend of hers.
They talked of the weather and Williams
prophesied storms. Then he asked Lady
Sarah to go in and see his wife, who was
in bed, a baby having lately been added
to an already numerous family. The
caniage not having yet arrived she went
in. The gentlemen went round to look
at the lifeboat, and they wanted Laura
to go too. But she refused — saying she
was tired — and sat down on a bench
outside the cottage and tried to talk to
Mrs. Jones. But she could not attend
to her answers ; they seemed irrelevant
and trivial, as did everything except the
words and looks that had just passed
between her and Heme. She could take
no interest in Lady Sarah's report when
she came out of the cottage ; and when
148 LADY LAURA.
Williams came back and tried a second
time to persuade her to go round and
look at the boat, she stared blankly and
seemed to have forgotten that she had
ever taken an interest in it.
It was an unspeakable relief when at
last the carriage came and she found
herself driving home in the twilight.
' Wearing an Eden crown.'
ADY MAKY reflected a good
deal in the course of the after-
noon on Laura's love-affair
and Sarah's very incorrect view of it,
with the result that when Laura came
in she was lying in wait for her at her
bedroom door, meaning to read her a
carefully prepared lecture on the subject.
That Laura would refuse to listen never
entered her head. Nevertheless when
she intercepted her in the passage and
said, ^ Can you come in here for a few
minutes ? I particularly want to speak
to you before dinner,' — Laura answered
ISO LADY LAURA.
without hesitation that it was impossible,
as there was hardly an hour before dinner
and she must be quiet for a little while
'I am tired, I want to be alone/ she
said ; and she hurried on to her room,
leaving her sister in helpless consternation.
Once safe in her own room, she
locked the door and threw herself on
her knees beside her bed. She was alone
at last and might give way to the tempest
of emotions with which she had been
battling. She bowed her head upon
the bed and clasped her hands — falling
instinctively into the attitude of prayer,
though prayer in any form of articulate
words or definite petition was impossible to
her. She could only wait passively while
wave after wave of emotion went over her;
and when at last the tumult subsided acd
left her calm, she could give no account
to herself of the feelings she had had.
LADY LAURA. 151
They had passed quite away and
taken with them all the old self with
which she was familiar. The difficulties
which had importuned her during the
last few months seemed now remote and
unimportant. Gone, too, was the wild
and sudden terror with which she had
started from Heme when he would have
spoken on the sands. In its place had
come a hoher, deeper dread. Her ques-
tionings were answered. She knew past
doubting that he loved her, and she
might frankly face her love for him. The
prize after which she had yearned so
painfully was hers — but was it in truth
the prize she had desired ?
He loved her. Yes, but she had
thought that would mean that his strong
life would take up her weak one and bear
it safely above doubt and danger and diffi-
culty — she had thought that, if he loved
her, she migbt become a child again and
152 LADY LAURA.
come and go at his bidding, heedless of
problems because he knew their answer,
untroubled by the sin and misery of the
world because his life was spent in
battling victoriously against them. Oh !
she had thought life would be easy if
he loved her, and now her spirit fainted
under the burden of the dignity with
which his love invested her ! He loved
her : that sounded hke rest. But then
he worshipped her : that meant that she
must labour to be worthy of his worship.
There are humiliations that exalt, and
there are honours that humble to the
dust. Laura, kneeling at her bedside
with her head bowed down upon her
hands, felt that a crown had been
tendered her which she dare. not put
aside with any protest of false humility,
but which to accept would bring a
terrible compulsion to be without fault
in all her life. She had heard of girls to
LADY LAURA. 153
whom their first love came as a bright
intoxication, flattering their vanity and
making them giddy and self-confident.
She thought of them with wonder. For
her, it seemed that vanity was dead for
ever as she stood upon the threshold of the
unknowTL life and waited with lowly heart
for the teaching of revelations yet to
come. Life henceforth would be a solemn
service ; and this, her hour of vocation,
she counted high and holy as that in which
the virgin of the Christian story was
called to glorious destiny. To her, who
was but yesterday an iiTCsponsible child,
whose safety lay in doubt of self and
humble reliance upon the judgment of
others, had been given the woman's
crown and sceptre- — to her who, stum-
bling in the dark, had stretched her
hand to grasp that of another whom
she believed able for guidance, had come
a confession of that other's weakness —
154 LADY LAURA.
to her who deemed herself helpless had
gone forth an appeal for help. She was
bidden to the place of royalty, but she
could take her queendom only on her
knees — yielding herself as to a holy fate
to which she had been born and which
therefore she had no option to refuse.
She was roused from her kneeling
posture by her maid knocking at the
door. She was tempted to send her
away and say she could do without
help this evening ; but, reflecting that
this course would certainly provoke
comment in the household, she let her
in and resigned herself to be dressed
as usual. Only when it was suggested
to her to put on a rather grand
new gown, she declined it, and asked
for a plain white one that she had had
a long time. In the change of all
within her, she felt that the familiar
garment would be a helpful link of con-
LADY LAURA. 155
tinuity between the old Laura and the
She delayed going down to the drawing-
room till she could count on all the party
being assembled. Otherwise she might
have encountered Lady Mary and been
forced to hear things that would have
jarred upon her mood. To-morrow, she
thought, she would confide in Sarah, but
for the present she chose to be silent :
it would be time for speech when she
had sounded all the depths of her new
experience. Besides it would be neces-
sary to sit through dinner; and how
could she do this if her secret were
known to others at the table ? Her
heart beat fast as she entered the
drawing-room, and things swam dizzily
before her eyes. Among all the figures
scattered about the room only one was
clear to her, and from that one she
turned her eyes away.
156 LADY LAURA.
* You are late, Laura/ said Lady Sarah ;
* we are all waiting for you.'
* I hope you are rested,' said Lady
Mary with significant emphasis on the
words, wliich however was wasted
upon Laura. She neither spoke nor
smiled, but stood still in her white
gown — looking serene and radiant — till
Mr. Fenton came up to her and said, —
^ I believe I am to have the pleasure
of taking you in to dinner to-night.'
Dinner proved a less terrible ordeal
than she had expected. Heme was at
the other end of the table, on the same
side of the room as herself, so that there
was no danger of their eyes meeting or
of her being led into conversation with
him ; and Mr. Fenton talked kindly to
her and was patient when she answered
absently. After dinner she took refuge
in a corner with the children, and when
the gentlemen came in, Fenton joined
LADY LAURA. 157
lier again. She was playing with a string
of opals that she had unfastened from her
neck to show to the children.
^ They are like the colours of the rain-
bow,' said little Eachel.
* And like my prism,' put in Eustace.
* But you should not wear opals, Lady
Laura,' remonstrated Mr. Fenton ; ' they
are unlucky. Will you let me look at
them nearer ? '
Laura handed them to him. ^ They
are very beautiful stones,' he said; ^but
you ought not to wear them. They are
treacherous and inconstant, and your
part is constancy.'
^ Are you superstitious ? '
' Not more than most people. We are
all like the children and animals, more
impressed by the appearance of things
than by their reality. Practically, I
suppose no man can have a more
thorough distrust of appearances than I
158 LADY LAURA.
have ; but that does not hinder my moods
from being influenced by them. I have
been distressed all dinner-time by seeing
you dressed in opals.'
* I am not afraid of them,' said Laura,
taking back her necklace and fastening
it round her throat again.
Lucky or unlucky, it was a most be-
coming ornament to her. The simple
circle of beads lightly clasped her throat
and set off its round fulness very beau-
tifully; while the changing colours of
the stones seemed to be reflected in the
fitful bloom of her complexion and the
clear blue veining of her forehead. The
great transparency of her skin gave at
all times an ethereal character to her
beauty, and to-night this effect was
much heightened by the strain of in-
ward emotion that swayed her like an
exquisite music. She spoke, smiled,
listened, moved, with the air of one who
LADY LAURA, 159
is far-off in mind ; and yet she could not
be called absent, for she missed nothing
that was said to her, and her answers
were prompt and to the point. It
seemed rather that all her senses were
quickened and their powers multiplied
so that she could move sanely in two
worlds at once — her feet on earth, her
crown in heaven. Mr. Fenton had
known her ever since she was a child,
but he thought he had never seen her
look so beautiful before.
^ I think if you had not said they were
so imlucky I should have had to give you
my opals, Mr. Fenton — you cannot take
your eyes off them.'
* They are worshipping eyes, not cove-
tous ones, I assure you,' answered
Fenton, taking the hint and withdrawing
the admiring look that was embarrassing
her. And then, sitting down beside her,
he said, —
i6o LADY LAURA.
' Opals have always had a fascination
for me. They seem to me the type of a
sensitive nature, and it is in this sense,
I suppose, that we feel them to be of evil
omen. I once made them the motive
of a picture, which, however, came to
nothing. It was intended to be one of
a series, but the idea broke down.'
^ Why did it break down ? '
Tor the usual reason, — it grew too
tragic in its development.'
' Will you tell me about it ? ' said Laura.
* If you like. But you wiU soon tell
me to stop, as you did this afternoon. I
had a fancy that the gems we most
admire are all typical of different phases
of human passion, and I thought I would
paint the story of a woman's life in a
series of pictures, each of which should
represent a different stag^ in the develop-
ment or dechne of her affections. In
the first I painted a very young girl
LADY LAURA. i6i
ornamented with pure, colourless crystals ;
in the second I di'essed her in opals ; in
the third I gave her pearls for young
matronhood ; in the fourth, rubies for the
pain of ripe life when passion is strong
and fierce ; and in the fifth and last
I decked her with diamonds, because
when innocence and repose and passion
are ahke past, a woman depends on the
splendour of her intellect and the bril-
liancy of her wit. Now you will give me
a lecture, for I know 3^ou agree with me
that wit is a poor thing to end with.'
' Yes ; but I can see the truth of your
idea, only '
' What were you going to say ? '
* That I think there are different kinds
of love, and that it is not the best kind
of love that you were painting.'
Fenton said abruptly, ' You are very
* Very,' said Laura simply.
VOL. II. 11
i62 LADY LAURA.
^ And you thought me a brute this
afternoon ? '
* You made me unhappy for a little
while. But it is past — only I wish '
She stopped, and her eyes filled with tears.
'Why should you stop ? People should
speak when they are happy — it is the mo-
ment of inspiration ? What do you wish ? '
' That everybody was happy,' said
Laura with a sigh.
Fenton smiled and walked away to
fetch some engravings he had promised
to show her, and when he came back they
talked of great masters and their works.
Later in the evening Fraulein Stahl
played on the piano ; and then bedtime
came, and Laura saw Heme coming
towards her to say good-night.
She looked up as he approached her,
and met his look with grave, unsmiling
simplicity. It was the same look from
which she had fled in panic a few hours
LADY LAURA. 163
ago — the look that seemed to take pos-
session of her life and bind it with sweet
and terrible conditions. But it did not
startle her this time ; rather, the mys-
terious tension of her mood seemed to
gather strength from it. She held out
her hand and said good-night.
^ Good-night, Lady Laura,' answered
Heme. And the words rang full and
solemn on her ear like the opening pas-
sage of a great poem of human thought
and passion and prayer.
As the ladies went together through
the long passages that led to the bed-
rooms, they paused several times to
remark on the violence of the wind that
rushed down the chimneys and shook
the hangings of the old house, and on
the storm-clouds drifting wildly across
the sky. Lady Sarah reminded Laura of
Williams' predictions, and Laura answered
mechanically. She hardly knew that the
i64 LADY LAURA.
wind was raging, and she had not noticed
the clond-confusion of the heavens. And
when her sister wished her good-night at
her bedroom door and stood a moment
divided between a loving soHcitude that
prompted her to ask for confidence and a
not less loving reverence that restrained
her from intruding into the closed sanc-
tuary, she looked in her dreamy joy so
sweet and saintlike that Lady Sarah in-
wardly vowed that this marriage should
not fail if effort of hers could bring it
to an issue. So true is it that the best
instrument of conversion is the beatitude
of the apostles.
^ Good-night, dear,' she said tenderly ;
*if the storm comes on and you are
frightened, you must call me.'
Laura promised, and thanked her sister
for the kind thought ; but she felt the
while that no storm of the elements could
upset her peace.
* Life treads on life, and heart on heart ;
We press too close in ch^orch and mart
To keep a dream or grave apart. '
'x\UEx\ lay down to rest with a
deeper sense of peace than
she had yet known in the
course of her short, bright hfe ; and if
any one had asked her whether there was
in her heart any unsatisfied desire, any
craving for fruition or sense of greater
joy before her to which her present con-
tent was but the prelude, she would
have answered truly, No. She wanted
no change in her outward hfe ; she did
not trouble herself to wonder whether
i66 LADY LAURA.
Heme would speak again before he went
back to London, or whether her family
would allow her to become his wife.
She was happy, too happy to think or
wish — or if she had any wish at all it
was that every hour of her life might
overflow as this one did with the bliss
of knowing that she might love. And
so she fell asleep, resting on the bosom
of her great content with as little con-
sciousness of what lay below it as the
sea-bird alighting on the crest of a wave
has of the terrors of the deep.
And while she slept the wind moaned
outside, and shook the house to its foun-
dations, and wrestled with the great trees
in the park and tore off their branches
and flung them in confusion on the
ground, and scared the hearts of sailors'
wives in the village, and drove many a
ship upon a fatal rock. The wind raged,
and the clouds drifted in black masses
LADY LAURA. 167
through the starless sky to meet in vivid
lightnings and awful crashing thunder.
One does not look for thunder-storms
in winter ; and Laura, starting from her
sleep to feel the house trembling and see
lightning flashing from the mhrors, was
seized with a great terror in which all
the emotions of the preceding day min-
gled in wild confusion like fragments of
a noble edifice that a sudden shock has
tumbled into ruins. It was the culmi-
nating moment of the storm, and when
the last reverberation of the peal that
had awakened her had died away, a long
pause followed in which no flash relieved
the darkness, and the only sound to be
heard was the moaning of the wind.
She sat up in bed with clasped hands
and tried to be brave ; but in vain.
All the stories she had ever heard of the
havoc wrought by wind and sea came
rushing through her mind as in a cataract
i68 LADY LAURA.
of horror, and, mirigled with them, came
floating before her vision scenes of the
Suddenly with an unutterable sense of
relief she heard Sarah's voice outside
her door : she was giving orders to a
servant to have things in readiness as if
for travellers expected in the night.
Laura glided out of bed and joined her
in the passage.
* Is anything the matter ? ' she asked
with chattering teeth.
* There is a ship in distress,' answered
Lady Sarah, ' and they have all gone out
to help. It is an awful storm ! '
' They— who ? '
* Edward and all the men in the house.
I think Egmont and Maurice Heme
meant to volunteer for the life-boat. I
was giving orders to have hot things
ready for them when they come in.'
Lady Sarah spoke composedly as if
LADY LAURA. 169
she were not anxious about them beyond
fearing colds and rheumatism from ex-
posure to the storm. Laura tried to feel
equally calm, but she could not. She
had turned deadly white on hearing that
Heme was probably out in the lifeboat :
she leaned against the doorpost and
clasped her hands tightly together.
Lady Sarah noticed her whiteness.
' Poor child,' she said, ' how cold you
are ! I thought you were sleeping
soundly. Indeed you were an hour
ago, for I looked in and saw you.' And
she led her back into her room and
covered her up with blankets.
^ What will they do ? ' asked Laura.
She wanted to know particulars of what
they might be doing on the waves. But
she had no experience of nautical mat-
ters and did not know exactly how to
shape her questions. Lady Sarah was
standing by the window absorbed in her
I70 LADY LAURA.
own thoughts and did not hear the
Laura watched her with wonder.
There was something very impressive to
her in the calm manner in which she
spoke and moved — something almost as
awful in a different way as the raging of
the storm outside : — more awful, perhaps,
from the contrast it offered to the terror
of her own heart. That seemed at least
in sympathy with her mood ; hut this
stoicism which a stranger might almost
have mistaken for hardness seemed to
stand apart from the storm and to tower
ahove its terrors. She felt rebuked and
oppressed by it.
*Are you not terribly anxious about
them ? ' she asked. ^ It is awful to think
of people one cares for being in such
* It is very awful/ replied Lady Sarah.
^ One can only feel that all is in God's
LADY LAURA. i-ji
hands. At times like this it always seems
to me that there comes a pause in life
when the ordinary com-se of thought and
feeling is broken across, and the only
wisdom is to follow the old word that
tells us to '' stand still and wait upon
the Lord." '
Laura could not answer. She felt that
there was a gulf between her and her
sister. Sarah could be calm because she
trusted in a Power above the storm,
while her own courage was dead and her
peace shattered because she had unlearned
the trust of her childhood, and the new
light had as yet been too faintly revealed
to help her in the hour of difficulty.
Later, when her anxiety was over, she
knelt down and thanked the Power in
which her sister trusted : but she remem-
bered all her life that while the danger
lasted all her prayer was a suppressed
repetition of the name that had lately
172 LADY LAURA.
grown so clear to her. She remembered
that though Sarah had said that Egmont
was in the boat as well as Maurice Heme,
she hardly thought of him at all. Like
the Maid of Craig-y-don, she had left her
own people to follow a stranger, and her
punishment was coming — she would be
left alone in deep waters to stretch out
her arm vainly for a vanished help.
Her sister sat with her for about
half-an-hour, and then, the storm being
well over, she wished her good-night and
left her, promising to come back as soon
as she had any tidings to impart. ^ You
are quite sure you do not mind being left
alone ? ' she said.
^ Quite sure,' answered Laura. ' The
storm is over and there is nothing more
* Because if you mind in the least, I
* No, no,' said Laura. She was im-
LADY LAURA. 173
patient now for Sarah to be gone — she
could not endure much longer the re-
proach that she had come to feel in her
presence. But when she was really alone
solitude grew horrible again, and unable
to lie still in bed, she rose and went to
the window to look out upon the night.
She knelt down and rested her arms upon
the window-sill and strained her eyes to
see through the darkness in the direction
where the danger lay. But she could see
nothing, and the horror of her loneliness
increased, till at last the cry of her heart
became articulate and she moaned aloud,
' Oh, Maurice, Maurice ! '
Then her head sank upon her hands,
and the long-pent tears flowed in the
She did not know how long she re-
mained so ; but when she looked up
again the clouds were breaking and a
few stars shone faintly through the
174 LADY LAURA.
gloom. She felt calmer — the tears had
relieved the overstrain of her nerves, and
a dull quiet had fallen on her senses.
She had ceased to feel, but she had not
yet energy to think — she could only keep
still, and let what fancies would float
before her mind's vision. Weird, terrible
fancies they were, but she looked on at
The night was peopled with strange
faces — grinning, horrible, grotesque ; in
turn they beckoned her with unearthly
gestures, and then when she looked at
them with closer attention, one face after
another became like Maurice and looked
at her through the darkness as he had
looked upon the sands — only the face was
white and haggard as with long suffering,
and sad with an infinite and hopeless
yearning; and all the others seemed to
say, ^ There is a great gulf fixed.' . . .
Then Maurice was dead and his soul had
LADY LAURA. 175
passed into the unknown world — into
far regions of which she knew nothing,
whither she could never follow. He was
outcast by God because of his unbehef ; he
was alone and sorrowful, yearning for a
word of sympathy or a look of love, and a
great gulf of silence divided her from him.
She had let him go without telling him
she loved him, and now it was too late.
She might cry out, but he would not
hear; she might stretch her hand out
into the darkness, but it could not reach
his han3 ; her heart might break to beat
against his, but he would never know it
through all the ages of eternity. . . .
Then the vision changed again, and it
was she who was outcast and miserable.
He had died nobly, sacrificing his Hfe for
others, and his spirit had found rest.
But she could not join him, for her faith
was not like his, and she was not worthy.
He was happy among souls that knew his
176 LADY LAURA.
excellence — happy without her. And
Laura, alone with her own soul in the
darkness, knew that this vision was worse
than the one that had preceded it. *
God ! ' she murmured to herself, ' anni-
hilation would be more bearable, — for him
now, and by-and-by for me.' * Annihila-
tion ' she repeated over and over to her-
self. The word had till now been ol
utmost horror for her, but in comparison
with other possibilities she began to
discover comfort in it. Sh^ rose from
her knees and walked up and down the
room, trying to get rid of the numbness
that possessed her, and to realise that
body and soul were still one and alive.
Then she came back to the window.
The clouds were more scattered and the
stars were getting brighter. One star.
struck her as more brilliant than the
others. She fixed her eyes upon it. It
was Maurice's spirit — far away, unattain^
LADV LAURA. 177
able, but still visible. She kept it in
view ; every now and then a cloud passed
over it and hid it for a moment, then it
emerged again. The clear space in the
sky was growing larger, but there were
still ominous masses of cloud towards the
west where the storm had been heaviest,
and they were moving slowly in the
direction of the clear space. Would
they swallow up her star and engulf it
once more in blackness ? They were
very near ; her heart beat nervously, — the
foohsh superstition had taken hold of her
. imagination. If the star was hidden
Maurice would be lost. She held her
breath while she watched.
But while there was still a space like
► a handbreadth between the star and the
- edge of the advancing clouds, her atten-
'tion was recalled from fancy to fact.
Footsteps were coming towards the house,
and, with the steps, a hum of voices.
VOL. n. 12
178 LADY LAURA.
She opened her window noiselessly and
leaned out, trying to distinguish faces
and figures. But all she could see
was a confused group, and the voices
were subdued so that it was impossible
to tell what was said or who was speaking.
She heard the house-door open and
close again. Then all was still. She put
on a dressing-gown, crept to the door and
waited, thinking surely Sarah would come
soon and tell her how things had gone.
Some one was coming upstairs. She
recognised Egmont's step and went out
to meet him. He was hurrying along
the passage and he did not see her — he
was brushing by her in the darkness.
But her suspense was not to be borne
a moment longer. ^Egmont,' she said,
^ tell me, are you safe ? '
Egmont started. ^ Good Heavens,
Laura ! is it you ? Yes, thank God, I am
safe; but it has been an awful night.
LADY LAURA. 179
Where is Sarah ? ' And without waiting
for an answer he hurried on in the direc-
tion of Sarah's room. But when he had
gone a few paces he turned hack, and
seeing Laura still standing in the passage
straining to catch sounds from the hall,
he said, ^ You had better go back to your
room, Lam^a. I will come to you as
soon as possible ; but I cannot come
now. Whatever you do, don't go down.'
Laura had not thought of going down ;
bat now the earnestness with which her
brother begged her not to do so, revived
all her fears with exaggerated intensity.
W^hy should he be in such a hurry to
find Sarah, why so determined that she
should not go down ? It could only
have one meaning, too horrible to be put
into words. She would not be kept out
of the w^ay, she who had a better right
to be present than any one. She flew
along the passage and down the stairs,
i8o LADY LAURA.
not pausing till she was in the hall.
There she stopped suddenly, bewildered
by the glare of light and confusedly
conscious of a number of people crowd-
ing together round something at the far
end of the hall. She tried to take in
the scene, glancing hurriedly from one
face to another. She saw her brother-
in-law talking gravely to Mr. Burrell
Jones, who looked haggard and unlike
himself. Mr. Fenton was there, and all
the men-servants, and one or two other
figures that were unknown to her. But
the one face that she was seeking was
not there. All at once she realised that
the something round which they were
gathered was the body of a man. She
felt a sudden sickness and a pang at her
heart like a sharp physical pain, and,
clutching at the banister, she bent down
and gave a low moan.
^ I do not think you ought to be here,'
LADY LAURA. i8i
said a voice close beside her, at sound of
which she gave a cry of joy and started
forward with outstretched hands : —
* It was not you then, — oh, thank God 1 '
Heme took her hands tenderly and
held them for one moment's space,
during which their eyes met in a mu-
tual claiming look. Then he put them
reverently aside : this was no moment
for lover's speech. ' Hush — sh,' he said,
motioning her hack with a mixture of
respect and authority in his manner. ' I
think you must not come further. You
are faint, let me help you upstairs.
There is a poor fellow dying there. We
have done what we could for him, but I
fear there is no hope of bringing him
' Hying — who is dying ? ' asked Laura.
^ It is Williams — the man we talked
to this afternoon. He behaved Hke a
hero at the wreck. But it was in coming
1 82 LADY LAURA.
back that it happened. We got into the
current, and the boat was carried on to
the reef by the landing-place, and it was
smashed. We were close in, and he got
crushed against a rock. He was terribly
injured. I fear there is no doubt he is
' Dying ! ' she repeated with an accent
of horror on the word. She had Hved
eighteen years in the world and had
not yet seen any one die — no gap had
opened in the circle of her loved ones.
No one near or dear to her had yet passed
out of the living world. Death was for
her a word, a spectre — a far-off, unreal
terror. She had fancied indeed just now
while she was alone in the dark, going
through in imagination all the misery
involved in the loss that seemed to
threaten her, that she had met death face
to face and grappled with its utmost
horrors. But now she realised how far
LADY LAURA. 183
fact surpasses the most lively imagining.
She had thought of death as striking the
life that was dearest to her, and she had
said to herself with shame that, that life
spared, no other blow could touch her —
that father, mother, brothers, sisters, all
had grown indifferent to her in compari-
son with the new absorbing love. And
now Heme told her that Owen Williams
was dying, and in a moment all personal
feelings sank abashed in the presence of
a sorrow that had fallen on a household
hardly known to her. ^ Dying ! ' she
repeated. ' But is it certain we can do
nothing ? We are so many. ... Oh
sm^ely, there must be help. Where is
Sarah ? '
Sarah was coming down the staircase
with Egmont, too much occupied with
the thought of the dying man to be sm*-
prised at seeing Laura. She gave a
questioning look to Heme, who answered
i84 LADY LAURA.
low, ' I fear it is all over,' and then went
on towards the place where Williams was
' Let me come with you ? ' said
Laura, and Sarah let her take her hand
and accompany her. She knew she
could do no good, hut a feehng like
remorse hindered her from going hack
to her room. While others had been
helping, suffering, dying, she had been
wholly occupied with her o^ti morbid
imaginings, and now, as she looked on
the face of the dead man, it seemed to
upbraid her with selfishness, and her own
words of thankfulness, uttered on hearing
that it was not Heme, came back upon
her mind with a meaning akin to murder.
The doctor let fall the dead hand, and
said in a low distinct voice that sounded
all over the hall, —
^ It is all over. There has been no
respiration for several seconds. There
LADY LAURA. 185
is nothing more to be done, Lady
And then the silence in which they
had been standing for several minutes
was exchanged for a general murmur of
subdued conversation about what should
be done with the body and how the sad
inteUigence should be carried to the
' It is all over,' Laura repeated to her-
self, ' and there is nothing more to be
done.' And she went near and looked
long and steadily upon the face of the
dead man. She was by nature timid,
and yesterday she would have shrunk
from the sight of death. But she felt
that it belonged to her new part in life
to shrink from no facts of existence ; she
must not any longer be a child, but a
brave and helpful woman, familiar mth
the trouble and sadness of the world.
Besides it seemed cowardly to shrink fi'om
1 86 LADY LAURA.
the poor dead body to wliicli, but a few
hours ago, so many weak ones had looked
for help — cruel to turn away and leave it
alone with death.
Oh surely it is not a wholly morbid
feeling that makes us hnger sometimes
in the presence of the calamity we cannot
undo, and the hours are not wasted
during which we wait silently looking
in the face of the inexorable power
from which all our yearning can win
nothing back ! Surely if it is well to
admire the might of man and to grasp
the fulness of his knowledge, it is well
also to have felt his helplessness and to
have bowed in humbleness before the
veil that hides the infinite mystery his
science cannot penetrate — accustoming
our hearts to patience and our intellects
to the high wisdom of knowing that there
is a limit beyond which they cannot go.
And perhaps it is doubly well for the
LADY LAURA. 187
prosperous, whose day of sorrow is so
long deferred that Fate seems to have
forgotten them, to look betimes beyond
the charmed circle of their individual
lot and learn the look of sorrow and
touch the hand of death, so that when
theii' day comes at last they may know
how to submit, and in the meantime it
may not be said of them, — ' They are so
happy that they cannot understand the
sorrows of their brothers.'
Not that Laura argued thus as she
drew near to the dead body from which
others were drifting away, intent on talk
about necessary details of arrangement.
She merely followed an instinct of sym-
pathy and the promptings of that un-
reasonable self-reproach we all feel in the
presence of a catastrophe that has fallen
upon another while our thoughts have
At last Egmont called her away.
i88 LADY LAURA.
* You must not stay here any longer,' he
said, kindly ; and he took her up to her
room and made her promise to go back
to bed. And an hour later, as she lay
with sleepless eyes fixed on the dark
window, watching wearily for the late
winter dawn, she heard him open her
door gently and look in.
' Egmont ! ' she called, and he came
to her bedside and knelt down beside
her and put his arm round her neck ;
and then she cried upon his shoulder
and clung to him, begging him not to
leave her till it was light. ^ It has
all been so terrible,' she said ; ^ and I
cannot get it out of my mind.'
So he sat with her t^U morning,
telling her about the shipwreck and the
danger they had run in the lifeboat.
And as they talked over the horrors of
the night, saying simply the first thing
that came into their heads, each sure
LADY LAURA. 189
of the sympathy of the other, Laura
felt that the old childish days had
come back again when she and Egmont
were all in all to one another; and
she wondered more and more that she
conld have dreamed for a moment that
any new experience could blot out the
old ones, or a new love be to her instead
of the tried affections that had so grown
with her growth that her very being
seemed made up of them.
' Calling him lord.'
EENE had gone back to Lon-
don before Laura appeared
next morning. And Lady
Sarah gave her a message of good-bye
from him, adding to it the information
that he would come back for one day and
night towards the end of the week as
arrangements were being made for a
pubHc funeral for Williams in which all
the village would take part — those who
had rowed with him in the boat acting
as pall-bearers in accordance with the
custom of Llanoun.
The respite thus gained was very
LADY LAURA. 191
welcome to Laura : she hoped that before
Heme's return she might have recovered
in some measure the calm that had come
to her in the hour when she knelt by her
bedside and meekly took her crown of
womanhood. That hour seemed now
very far away and its peace fled for
ever. And hke one who, after partaking
in a solemn rite in which his soul has
risen above all weakness of body and
worldUness of mind to commune face to
face with the Spirit of Eternal Good,
finds on returning to the busy street that
his exalted mood is no safeguard against
the disfcractions of the world, and is
tempted to call in question the teaching
of the sacramental hour, so she doubted
now the reality of the inspiration that
had seemed so strong and proved so
weak. For a brief space her spirit had
touched the Highest and she had thought
that henceforth all life would be illumined
192 LADY LAURA.
by the sacred flame kindled in the con-
tact. But, as the intolerable glory faded
quickly from the face of Moses, and the
divinely-graven tablets were shattered
in wrath at sight of the perverse nation
revelling around a golden calf, so her
light had gone out and the new law of
a consecrating love that had seemed
given to guide her steps aright had
fallen into meaningless confusion. The
doubts that had been put to flight by the
declaration of Heme's love had now
returned, and her high sense of the obli-
gation to be faultless that his love im-
posed, seemed to increase their urgency
without making her more fit to deal
with them. The thought of Cassandra's
claims came back now with torturing im-
portunity, while in her doubts as to the
Tightness of joining herself to one who
denied the faith to which she had been
bred she found another difficulty in
LADY LAURA. 193
which she could get no hel^) from any-
one : she felt that it was a question for
her own conscience only.
It was matter of thankfulness with
her that during her days of respite she
was left very much to herself. Lady
Sarah was continually occupied, and, of
the guests who had heen staying in the
house, the greater number went away on
the day after the storm. The Cour-
tenays returned home, the Walworths
and Lady Mary Yane went on to Ard-
gwen, and Fraulein Stahl, thinking that
Lady Sarah would probably be glad to
have as few people staying in the house
as possible, considerately invented an
engagement in London. Only the
Burrell Joneses and Mr. Fenton re-
mained, besides herself and Egmont.
Mr. Jones was to take part in the fimeral
service and Fenton of course could not
VOL. II. 13
194 LADY LAURA.
Once or twice Laura thought of going
home before the day on which Heme was
to come back, but to do this would have
involved an explanation with her sister,
a course towards which she felt a growing
disinclination. So she stayed, and when
Heme came back to Llanoun on the day
before the funeral, she was still there ;
and when the afternoon and evening
went by without his saying or looking
anything that showed remembrance of
her unguarded words on the night of the
wreck, she began to think that perhaps
after all he had not noticed them and
that he would return finally to London
without seeking further speech with her.
She said to herseK that it would be over
now in a few hours. And as they all
walked to the church together next
morning she felt that the burial to which
she was going, was that of all the sweetest
promises that life had yet spoken to her.
LADY LAURA. 195
It was in a solemn silence of close-
pressed lips and tightened hearts that
the population of Llanoun walked in black
procession behind the coffin that bore
Owen Wilhams to his resting-place in
the Httle graveyard by the sea. Men,
women, and children were there, rich
and poor knit together for one short
hour less by a common sorrow than by
a common sense of prostration before a
power greater than man. Differently,
each from each, they felt the occasion
of their gathering — the loss of father,
husband, friend, old neighbour, new
acquaintance ; but all had a common
note in the mute amazement of soul that
comes in the presence of a calamity not
referable to human responsibility.
Laura's thoughts wandered a good deal
during the service, and when she called
them back to attention she was painfully
conscious of dissent. She could not but
196 LADY LAURA.
remember the passionate rebellion of her
spirit when it had seemed that the threat
of the tempest was aimed at her own
heart ; and, rebelling for others now as
she had rebelled then for herself, she felt
towards the bereaved family and all the
mom-ners and sufferers of the world a
sudden outleap of sympathy that had
something of the indignant colour that
our compassion takes when it is enlisted
on behalf of an oppressed people. The
universe seemed to confront her in a new
aspect : she saw men struggling together
in close-ranked brotherhood against a
strong, unpitying Fate of which the in-
struments were storm and disease and
pestilence and death. She could not
join in prayer or praise, for prayer and
praise were alike addressed to him whose
hand was said to arm the tempest and
to spread the pestilence. God aj^peared
to her as a Destroyer, and her sympathies
LADY LAURA. 197
were witli the victims. She tried to listen
to the sermon and to find comfort in the
reiteration of , the stock phrases by which
optimist theology justifies the ways of a
God all-loving and all-mighty to the
doubting hearts of those whom he has
stricken. But in vain. The arguments
of the preacher carried no conviction —
his exhortations left her cold. She re-
membered how she had once reproached
Heme for wishing to take their last
comfort from the miserable — she thought
now that their comfort was no comfort.
She began to understand how for all
whose worship has its centre outside
the human world, the lessons of such
hours must needs be dark, and how only
those who have learned to recognise the
moral blindness of the universe, and
whose help is in the loyal hand-grasp of
their brothers, can find their religious
trust quickened and its bonds strength-
198 LADY LAURA.
ened by the calamity that man has not
contrived. And she yearned towards
those whose trust is in a Providence that
does not claim to be almighty. She
thought there would be consolation in
belonging to a communion of which the
bond was a sense of mutual dependence,
and to whom every blow of Fate would
come but as a signal for the rallying of
comrades — an occasion for extending the
human sympathy that is the sole support
of stricken man.
When the sermon ended and the con-
gregation bowed their heads in reverence,
Laura drew hers up in involuntary pro-
test, and as she did so her eyes met
Heme's, and she knew that he was
feeling with her.
A few hours later she was sitting in the
window-sill of her favourite little room,
looking sadly out upon the park, where
the boughs torn off by the storm still
LADY LAURA. 199
lay scattered in disorder. She was very
pale, and there were large dark circles
under her eyes, and every now and then
her lips quivered and her brow contracted
as though she were struggling to com-
mand some painful thought. She was
saying to herself for the hundredth time
that Heme would go back to London
without speaking to her further, and that
it was well that he should do so — he was
bound to Cassandra, as she had always
thought, and his feeling for her had been
a passing movement of unfaithfulness for
which she was herself probably to blame.
He would go away and forget her, and
right would be done, and by-and-by she
would be strong enough to be glad.
If only he would go without bidding
her good-bye, and so spare her the pain
of another interview ! It seemed to her
that she could not meet him again and
look in his face and touch his hand and
200 LADY LAURA.
hear him say her name — and not break
out in some wild way. She might have
been to blame, but surely all had not
been her fault or her imagining. It was
not her fancy that he had said he loved
her that evening on the sands. And why
should he say it if he did not mean it ?
Surely it had not been all her fault, and,
if she had betrayed herself that night,
he at least must know that she was not
She could give him up ; she wished
him to go back to Cassandra and be
faithful, but she could not find it in her
heart to believe that he had not cared
for her a little. To think that, seemed
somehow to rob her of existence.
But Heme had not forgotten, and
while Laura was praying that he would
go away without seeing her again he
was seeking her about the house. He
had turned back from a walk on which
LADY LAURA, 201
he had started with Egmont and Mr.
Fenton, making the excuse that he had
some papers which he must look through
before going back to town ; he had
sought Laura in the dining-room and
in the hbrary, and now he was coming
along the passage through which we
once saw her flying from Lady Mary's
Laura heard his footstep and started
from her seat, her pale face growing
suddenly crimson. But before he could
enter she had turned deadly white again
and was standing with her face towards
the window. She did not turn round as
he came in, but waited as she was for
him to speak.
^ Lady Laura,' he said, ' I have come
to say good-bye to you. I am obliged to
go back to London this afternoon.'
' Yes,' said Laura, without lifting her
eyes from the ground.
202 LADV LAURA.
' And I had something else to say-
besides good-bye/ said Heme ; and then
he paused, hoping that she would look
up and give him some encouragement.
But Laura was motionless and her eyes
were still cast down.
* I had a great many things to say to you/
continued Heme, — * things which I tried
to say to you once before. You stopped
me then, but you have seemed since to
give me leave to think that you would
care to hear them. May I say them
now ? '
Still Laura did not speak, and he went
on. ^ To tell you that I love you as
I have never loved any woman before
would be a very small part of what
I had to say. I wanted to tell you that
I worship you as the purest and noblest
being that I have ever known — I wanted
to thank you for having taught me to
believe again in the possibility of life
LADY LAURA. 203
being grand and pure and beautiful. I
wanted to tell you all this.'
Her back was still tui-ned towards him.
He tried to take her hand, and she with-
' Why do you turn away from me ? '
' Leave me,' moaned Laura.
But he only drew nearer. She was
' Why should you tremble before me ? '
he said. ^ Laura — dearest — look up and
tell me that I may speak. Will you not
tell me that what you seemed to say
the other night was true — that you do
care for me and that my love is not an
offence to you ? '
But Laui'a stood as if spell-bound.
With exquisite delight she had heard him
call her simply by her name, as if she
were his and there were no more division
between them. But stronofer than de-
204 LABV LAURA.
light was her sense that he was tempting
her to a great wrong. The image of
Cassandra rose between them, and she
felt herseK a traitor to her friend.
Speech seemed impossible, and yet she
must speak. She looked up and met
his gaze steadily for a minute ; then
turning away again, she stammered,
The name alone uttered at that mo-
ment had reminder enough in it to
move Heme disagreeably : the look that
accompanied it made it impossible for
him to doubt the meaning with which
it was spoken. He understood that
Laura beheved him to be virtually en-
gaged to her cousin, and he concluded
hastily that Cassandra herself was an-
swerable for the belief. A moment ago
he too had felt compunction towards
Cassandra, but now compunction gave
place to resentment.
LADY LAURA. 205
^ Cassandi'a ! ' he echoed. ' What has
Cassandra to do with us ? '
^ Oh everything ! ' said Laura ; ^ she is
the dearest friend I have, and but
^ 'V\^at do I know ? ' asked Heme.
'You know — at least I mean — I thought
— we all thought you were going to marry
' There is some mistake,' said Heme
angrily. ' Who has told you that I was
going to marry Cassandi'a ? It is a
dream, an invention. Cassandra and I
are each fi-ee as far as the other is con-
cerned. We are good friends — that is all :
at least we were before I heard this.'
' Oh, what have I done ? ' cried Laura
in distress. ^ It was my own fancy —
Cassandra never told me anything — I
thought it for myself — we all thought
it. Is it possible that we were all
mistaken ? '
2o6 LADY LAURA.
'You were very much mistaken,' said
Heme. 'There is nothing between me
and Cassandra. She is free and I am
free. Do you believe me ? '
' Yes, I beheve you,' said Laura.
' Only it seems strange when I had been
thinking it all along.'
' But you believe me ? And now you
will let me speak ? '
He spoke confidently as if victory
were already won. But Lam^a di^ew back
and said, —
' Oh no, I have listened too long already.
I do not know what has happened to me.
Please do not say anything more. You
are kind sometimes. Be kind now and
' No,' said Heme, ' I cannot leave you.
Not at least till you have answered me
whether you love me or not. I have a
right to ask that question. You gave
me the right on the night of the storm.
LADY LAURA. 207
and you must not send me away without
an answer.' lie waited a moment, but
as she did not speak he went on, drop-
ping the tone of fierce determination in
which he had begun to one of quiet argu-
ment. ^Lady Laura,' he said, 'when
we stood together this morning in the
churchyard, it passed through my mind
that in all calamities like death and ruin
that come from the great forces of the
world over which man has no control,
there is this element of good, that they
strip life for the moment of all artificiali-
ties and make us feel the true worth and
sacredness of natural human feehng. I
had loved you almost from the first
moment of om- meeting, but till this
morning I never deliberately purposed
to ask you to be my wife. I said you
belonged to another world than mine,
and that it was my duty to leave you
where you were happy. But this morn-
2o8 LADY LAURA.
ing I took courage and said that my
love — our love — was a more sacred thing
than the barriers that the customs of the
world have built up between us. I said
to myself that if you cared for me as you
had given me reason to think you did,
you would be happier in following the
impulse of your heart and becoming my
wife than in stifling your love for the
sake of rank and wealth. I said that I
had a right to ask you from yourself, and
that they were wrong who warned me in
the name of your happiness to leave you.
Was I right, Laura — my love ? — tell me
that I was right ! '
He had done speaking, and was stand-
ing over her waiting once more for her
to speak, and she had sunk into the
window-sill and hidden her face in her
hands. She dared not meet his eyes, for
she knew what power was in them to
subdue her weakness. She did not an-
LADY LAURA. 209
swer at once. She was trying to reason
with his arguments — trying to meet him
on the ground that he had taken. But
the ground was new to her. She had
never thought of the difference in their
worldly position as a barrier between
them. Barrier enough had been found
in the thought of Cassandra's prior love
and the romance of engagement between
the cousins that her imagination had
built up, — mountains of separation that
made it superfluous to inquire whether
there were also molehills in the waj^
But now the mountains were removed
by a word. And yet she shrank from
him, almost wishing that she could find
valid ground for the denial of his suit
in the difference of rank to which he
had referred ; for she feared that the
scruples that held her back, though
they were real to her with a reality far
beyond any that belonged to the facts of
VOL. II. 14
2IO LADY LAURA.
mundane life, would seem to him mere
cobwebs spun by her girlish fancy to be
brushed away by a stroke of masculine
' Was I right, dearest ? ' he repeated
in a lower tone, of which she felt the
pleading force thrilling through every fibre
of her body and compelling her to speak
though she would fain have prolonged
for ever the respite silence gave her.
*You were right,' she said, speaking
very low as if she would avoid hearing
the sound of her own words, — ' you were
right. What has happened during the
last few days has been so terrible and so
solemn that we cannot help speaking the
truth to one another. After that night it
would be useless for me to pretend that I
do not care for you. I will not try. I
think I do not dare. You know that I
care for you .... But then there is much
more that you do not know — there is
LADY LAURA. 211
She paused. It seemed to her that he
might laugh if she told him what was in
her mind, and she could not bear that.
' What is there ? ' said Heme ; ^ what
can there be to keep us apart if you do
love me as you say you do ? '
^ Oh there is much, very much. There
is a gulf between us,' said Laura, de-
* I knew the world would say so,'
answered Heme with a note of bitterness
in his voice that made her wince. ' I
knew the world would say that I had no
right to ask you to marry me. But I
did not think that you would say so. I
thought it was you who said that you
would be miserable in the possession of
any good that you could not share with
others. Was it all a dream, what you
told me that evening on the sands when
you seemed like an angel from heaven
come to rebuke my doubt in goodness
212 LADY LAURA.
and to cheer me with sympathy in all
the best feelings of my life ? Was it a
dream, and are you now angry with me
because I have asked you to be my
wife ? '
^ Oh no, no ! ' she said, unable to
endure any longer that he should so
cruelly misunderstand her. * It is not
that — you know it is not that. You can-
not think that I meant any mere diffe-
rence of rank.'
' What is it then ? what can it be ?
Believe me there is nothing — there can
be nothing — to keep us apart ; ' and he
came nearer to her, with a movement
as though he would have taken her to
himself then and there and held her his
But she started from her seat and waved
him off with an imperative gesture.
^ Listen,' she said ; * only be patient for
one moment, and I will tell you what it
LADY LAURA. 213
is.' Then suddenly changing her tone to
one of entreaty she said, ^ Oh, do hsten
and be pitiful ! — I told you that I loved
you because I was weak and my fear
drove me to it ... . But there is so
^ "What is there ? ' said Heme.
* Oh ! ' she said, * there is one's love
for one's father and mother, and for
one's brothers and sisters, for one's home
and for all the things that one has been
brought up to care for — and there is
one's faith in God.' Once more she
paused, hoping that he would answer and
so reinforce her strength by opposition.
But he was silent, and she had to gather
up her strength by an inward effort and
find words in her own mind only. She
went on desperately. ' And it seems to
me that since I have known you I have
somehow drifted away from all these
things, and that night when you were
214 LADY LAURA.
out in the storm I first discovered how
far I had gone. You are stronger than
I am. But do not take advantage of my
weakness, for I must speak the truth to
you because you know it already, and I
could not bear that you should despise
me as you would do if I pretended that
it was worldly things that stood between
us. It is not worldly things. It is that
you are carrying me away, and that I
am too much confused and bewildered to
know clearly whether I ought to follow.'
^ But why should you be afraid to
follow ? Our love will make a heaven
for us both in which all mere differences
of creed will seem of very little conse-
quence. See how small they must be
since they have not been able to keep
our souls apart.'
But Laura answered sadly, —
'■ No, no ; they are not small. I said
there was a gulf between us — and your
LADY LAURA. 215
words only help to make me feel how
wide it is. To you these things are
nothing — but to me they are everything.
I could not be content unless we beheved
' We would believe in one another,'
* That is not enough,' answered Laura.
' That frightens me, but in the other I
think there would be rest. Oh, sm^ely
there must be truths that are larger and
more fixed than the love of any man or
woman. I used to feel that it was so.
Sarah feels it ; she felt it in the storm
when I was all adrift and could not pray
or trust. I think I should feel it again
in a little time. If you gave me a little
time to think,' she ended.
*A little time,' said Heme bitterly,
* during which all the old influences will
be about you, and your conscience will
persuade your heart against me. Oh,
2i6 LADY LAURA.
Laura, if I thought you did not love me,
I would leave you without another word,
though to leave you would he to give up
heaven. But you do love me. And yet
you ask me to leave you. And this I
cannot do. It is cruel to ask it.'
* Oh no, not cruel ! ' she said ; * I am
not cruel — hut I am unhappy. I want
to go home to my mother. She will
help me to know what is right. But if
I ought to decide now, I can only say, —
Good-bye.' And she held out her hand
in farewell. But Heme did not take it.
There was silence between them for
the space of a few seconds.
Laura had said ' good-bye,' and she
had fancied that the word would end
her struggle — that he would take her
hand and press it sorrowfully, give her
one last look, and go for ever.
But instead of going, he stood in front
of her, silent and motionless. Her eyes
LADY LAURA. 217
were cast down, but she felt that his
were bent on her. Suddenly she looked
up and met them in a straight, full gaze.
He did not move, he did not speak.
And she did not turn away, but kept
her eyes fixed steadily on his. It seemed
to her that she had never really met his
look before, — never felt its warmth^ or
drunk its tenderness, — never known how
large and full and deep it was.
With every moment now, she felt that
it was growing more tender and more full
— larger, bluer, deeper. It w^as as if
his inmost soul were opening for hers
to pass into it.
And all the while he was so still and
calm, as if he knew that he had but
to wait and she would recall her word
and come to him. Her own doubt was
melting under his conviction, her weak-
ness was yielding to his strength — and
she could no longer oppose argument
2i8 LADY LAURA.
to impulse. Sarah's words spoken in
the storm came to her mind, —
' At times liJce tliis^ we can only stand
still and wait upon the Lord.'
The Lord ?
But who and what was Lord ? — Love,
Conscience, God, or Man ?
A few minutes ago, she had talked of
her faith in God, of her home and her
own people — saying that these stood be-
tween her and Maurice. And now all at
once it seemed to her that God and
home were in the eyes of the man who
loved her and whom she loved.
She could not turn away from his eyes
any more. They held her. They drew
her. She felt herself rising from her
chair — moving, in spite of herself, to-
* Oh, what is it ? ' she moaned, ' what
is it? ... . Do not leave me. I can-
not live without you.'
LADY LAURA. 219
And she stumbled forward and glided
upon her knees — to the ground — at his
feet. ^0 God — Maurice — help me ! '
And in a moment he had caught her
in his arms, and she was clinging to him
and uttering low broken sounds, and he
was answering with words of love.
And she felt that she could never
doubt again — she knew that for good or
evil she was his for ever.
' To him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take
thy coat also.'
AUEA stayed on at Llanoun
for two days more, and found
confirmation and comfort in
her sister's sympathy. For Lady Sarah,
having once taken her part, was eager
to help her through all difficulties. She
undertook to propitiate Lord Ehoos, and
wrote immediately to tell him of what
had passed, and to beg him to lose no
time in coming to Ardgwen and doing
all he could to promote Laura's happi-
ness, which she most earnestly assured
him depended upon this marriage. And
LADY LAURA, 221
she told Laura that she might count
with certainty upon his help. At which
Laura looked doubtful. Sarah's confi-
dence was, however, not to be shaken.
^You none of you know Khoos,' she
Laura made no answer : she was very
well aware that she did not know Ehoos,
but she was none the less sm-e that he
would not be on her side.
However, she did not feel afi^aid.
Heme's love and Sarah's sympathy
seemed enough to her. She believed
they would carry her through, and she
started homewards full of happy con-
But by the time she reached Ardgwen
she felt her courage dying away, and she
wished she had allowed Heme to write
at once to her father instead of stipulat-
ing for a week's respite.
She had said, ' I must have a few days
222 LADY LAURA.
to think it over with my mother.' But
when she found herself at home again,
it was not to Lady St. Asaph, hut to
Cassandra, that she thought she would
tell her story first.
She went to the rectory directly after
hreakfast on the day following her return
home, and met her cousin in the garden.
Cassandra was on her way to the
castle, impelled hy a restless anxiety
for news. The idea that the visit to
Llanoun would bring Heme to the point
of a declaration to Laura had never
once quitted her since the night of the
dance; and, though she had heard of
his visit to the rectory on the following
morning, as he had not followed it up by
a letter, she had been unable to find in
it any assurance of an intention to be
guided by her warning. Indeed the most
probable explanation of his visit seemed
to her that, having reflected upon her
LADY LAURA. 223
hints and resolved to disregard them, he
had come from a sense of honour to tell
her so. The fortnight that had passed
since had been to her a time of almost
greater unrest than to Laura herself.
* It is good for you to come and see me
so soon,' she said. ^ I was just starting
to come to you. How are you ? ' She
smiled as she spoke, and tried to feel that
there was not necessarily any special
significance in Laura's prompt visit.
' Don't praise me, or I shall feel that I
am a humbug,' answered Laura, going
straight to the point. ' I have come
because I wanted to tell you something
— something that has happened to me
and that I want your advice about. Will
you help me, Cassie ? '
The forced smile died from Cassandra's
lips. She knew what was coming, and
for a moment all power of dissimulation
forsook her. And yet it was only what
224 LADY LAURA.
she had been schooling herself to bear
for months past — what she had foreseen
with certainty on the first evening of
Heme's first visit to Ardgwen. She had
thought over and over again how she
should feel when Laura came and told
her that she was going to marry Maurice
Heme : she had purposely accustomed
herself to the idea, so that the fact might
not take her off her guard. And now
the moment was come, and Laura was
standing before her with the news that
was no news trembling on her lips, and
she felt as unprepared as though the
bolt had fallen from a blue sky.
Laura put up her face to kiss her, and
she recoiled from her as from some bright
beautiful creature that has a deadly
Laura was too much pre-occupied with
her own thoughts to be minutely obser-
vant of others. She noticed, however,
LADY LAURA. 225
that Cassandra started, and she thought
she must have alarmed her by the
seriousness of her manner.
' Oh, don't look like that ! ' she said ;
* it is not anything dreadful. I did not
mean to frighten you.'
Cassandi'a made a weak attempt at a
smile. But she still avoided Laura's
kiss. There were half-formed purposes
within her that would have made it a
She said in a tone of forced lightness,
'I am glad your news is not dreadful.
It is a foohsh habit with me always to
expect bad news when people tell me
they have something to say to me.
Come into the house, and we will have
But Laura preferred to stay outside.
It would be easier to tell her story in
the course of a walk than sitting within
doors. And Cassandra was of the same
VOL. II. 15
226 LADY LAURA.
mind with regard to listening. So they
agreed to have their talk in the open
They passed out of the garden in
silence, neither of them speaking till
they were well away from houses and
people. Then, when the village was
behind them and they were alone on the
hill-side, Laura began her story.
She went right back to the beginning of
her acquaintance with Heme, reminding
Cassandra how she had been prejudiced
against him before his coming to Ardgwen,
and detailing step by step of her passage
from prejudice to her present state of
feeling. Much she dwelt on her resist-
ance to the dawning inclination, much
on her efforts to withdraw herself from
the new influence. She omitted nothing
from the narrative save her misconception
about Cassandra. That was a part of
the subject she instinctively avoided.
LADY LAURA. 227
Not that any doubt remained in her mind
after Maurice's distinct assertion that he
and Cassandra were mutually free. She
believed him entirely and was satisfied
that her notion had been without foun-
dation. But the recollection of it was
disagreeable to her.
So all that had reference to Cassandra
was omitted from Laura's confession;
and Cassandra, walking by her side in
silence, felt that her own part in the
affair must have been an illusion — a
dream that she had dreamed, in which
she and Laura and Maurice had figured
with the vividness of waking life, but
which could have had no existence
in fact, since all the while Laura and
Maurice had been playing a drama of
their own in which she had had no part.
Was it fancy, she asked herself, that
she and Maurice had sat together in the
library on the night of the dance and
228 LADY LAURA.
that she had been betrayed into uttering
words of which the echo still startled
her inward ear? Was it fancy that
Laura had come in and discovered them
in the attitude of love-making? Was
it possible that she had seen nothing,
guessed nothing — that there had been
nothing to see and guess? and had
she, Cassandra, been ashamed without
cause? Her mind grew inattentive,
and she did not observe that Laura had
finished her story and was waiting for
her to reply.
' Well, Cassie, why don't you speak ?
What do you think ? '
* It is for you to think,' said Cassandra,
startled into attention, and catching at
the first words that suggested them-
^ Oh, but I have thought, and thought,
and thought, and I can get no further
than I was at the beginning. I thought
LADY LAURA. 229
you would be able to help me. There
is no one else who can.'
Laura's eyes were filling with, tears.
A great sadness, of a kind new to her,
seemed suddenly to have entered her life.
A responsibility had come to her which
she might not shift on to the judgment
of another, or even share in sisterly
equality with her nearest friend. Cas-
sandra understood her, but she felt no
compassion and she did not hasten to
No one knew better than she what
such sadness was. Her own life had
been steeped in it. And hitherto in
her intercourse with Laura she had
striven continually to save her from like
experience by anticipating with quick
sympathy the different stages of her
mind's development. It had seemed a
sort of atonement to her own poisoned
girlhood to make its lessons serve to help
230 LADY LAURA.
another, and the half-motherly, half-
sisterly affection that she had cherished
for Lanra had been one of the best
influences in both their lives, mellow-
ing the character of the older woman
and strengthening that of the younger.
Amid many painful memories and self-
condemning thoughts, it made a bright
spot in Cassandra's consciousness to
know that she had given Laura such
friendship as might have made her own
life happy. And now this was the result
of it, — Laura had robbed her of the one
chance of personal happiness that life
held for her, and she must give her
sympathy and encouragement and never
betray the anguish it would cost her.
For a moment she said to herself that
she would not do it ; that to pretend to
rejoice in Laura's joy would be a piece
of base hypocrisy — a sort of injustice to
herself that could not be demanded of
LADY LAURA. 231
her. What right had Laura to take all
the happiness and know nothing of the
cost ? What right had she to ask sym-
pathy for herself and never stop to think
whether others did not need it more ?
It was a moment of terrible temp-
tation to Cassandra. She knew the
strength of her influence ; she had but
to speak a word, and Laura would put
aside as a perilous snare the joy that
had been offered her. But that was
not what she desired. She did not so
much grudge Laura happiness as rebel
against her taking it in ignorance of
its cost. It seemed to her that the one
soul-satisfying vent her wretchedness
could find was in blurting out the story
of her own suffering ; and that, having
spoken, she could creep aside and bear
her disappointment silently for evermore.
Oh ! it had been bitter long ago to learn
that the world was less fair than she had
232 LADY LAURA.
deemed it, but it was far bitterer now
to know that the fair things she had
recovered faith in were never to be hers.
The whole of life had seemed once to
stretch around her like a grey desert,
meaningless and boundless. Now the
desert was narrowed to her own lot, and
its boundaries were Edens of blessedness
reserved for others, and her thought of
sweetest consolation was an impulse to
lay waste the pleasant places from which
she was cast out.
It was a moment of fierce temptation,
and she was on the point of yielding —
when Laura slid her hand into hers and
renewed her appeal for help.
The familiar touch revived the old habit
of affection, and she answered involun-
tarily, ' I will help you all I can.' And
then, with a grim regret, she realised that
she had pledged herself to forego the
barren revenge she coveted.
LADY LAURA. 233
Laura's face brightened.
' I knew you would,' she said ; ' and I
knew that whatever you might say, you
would not be hard on him. Because you
have always taken his part and said it was
possible to be good and honourable and
yet hold his opinions ; you do think so,
don't you ? '
* Certainly I do,' said Cassandra ; ^ and
I think I ought to tell you that I hold
the same opinions myself.'
It was a blunt confession, for which
Laura was wholly unprepared ; though
it hardly surprised her more than it
did Cassandra herself, who uttered it
without premeditation — partly because
she knew that it would be more sub-
stantially comforting than the tenderest
expressions of sympathy, and partly also
because these were not yet possible
' You I ' cried Laura in amazement.
234 LADY LAURA.
* And you go to church and teach in
the schools and do just like other people.
How strange ! '
* How dishonest ! you might say,' put
in Cassandra ; * but I am a coward, and
I do not like to make myself singular.'
A new vista was opening before Laura.
It was evidently possible for young
women to arrive at sceptical conclusions
without being under the influence of
sceptical husbands. It might happen
to her, then, to reject Maurice's love and
sympathy and find that she could not
reject his opinions. It might happen to
her to hold them without sympathy as
Cassandra had done, and Uke Cassandra
she might not have courage to be true to
them. The prospect frightened her.
' Do your opinions make you very sad ? '
^ Oh,' said Cassandra sadly, ^ that is
an impossible question to answer. Few
LADY LAURA. 235
people are altogether happy, and I have
never been able to see that happiness or
unhappiness belonged specially to any
one set of opinions. Happiness is all
accident, I sometimes think.'
^ How do you mean ? Surely it must
make a difference to one's happiness
what sort of hopes and beHefs one has
about this world and the next, and one's
soul, and other people's. To me it seems
very sad to think as you and Maurice
Cassandra answered more gently, —
^ That is because you know very Httle
of what we do think. You only know
that we disbelieve things you never
dreamed of doubting till a few months
ago. To me who have lived outside
your faith for years, it seems that behevers
and unbelievers have about an even share
of happiness. Or perhaps, if I were to
speak quite honestly, I should say that
236 LADY LAURA.
I think the largest share both of joy
and of son'ow belongs to those who
are in sympathy with the best thought
of their own day.'
* And is that what Maurice is ? '
* I think so,' said Cassandra, and then
they were both silent for a few minutes.
Suddenly Laura said, —
* Tell me how you came to have
opinions like his ? '
And Cassandra, who had till now
avoided her eyes, darted a swift ques-
tioning look at them. Was it possible
that Laura had no suspicion ? Evidently
it was; for Laura did not look away,
but merely repeated her question.
Long afterwards, Laura, thinking over
this conversation by the light of sub-
sequent events, wondered at her own
obtuseness, and blamed herself for the
pain her want of perception had caused
her to inflict. But while the conver-
LADY LAURA. lyj
sation was actually taking place, lier
interest and curiosity were too fully
engrossed to leave room for any thought
outside the immediate question. Her
own life had grown so large and full
that it spread over the whole universe
and translated all facts and all expe-
rience into language of self. She felt
it an important fact that Cassandra's
convictions should be identical with
Mamice Heme's, but important only
in so far as it tended in the direction
of her own wishes.
'Do tell me how you came to have
these opinions ? ' she said.
'It is a long story,' answered Cas-
sandra, ' and not a happy one.'
' Then you do think such opinions
make one sad ? '
Laura would not go without her answer
on this point. And Cassandra was con-
scious of a growing irritation under the
238 LADY LAURA.
pressure. The iron had entered into her
own soul and left scars on which it was
intolerable that triflers should lay an idle
finger-tip. She restrained herself how-
ever, and answered quietly, —
* I think all change of belief makes one
sad. Doubt is terrible, especially if one
has to meet it alone. And to me doubt
came when I was very young through
the influence of a person whom I had
beHeved to be very good and pure, and
who proved in the end to be extremely
bad. It was years ago, when you were
a child — before I knew Maurice — when
I was away at school. This woman
disappointed me and made me doubt, not
only the goodness and truth of God, but
the existence of any goodness in man or
woman. For a long time I believed in
nothing, in no one, and then I was very
miserable. But in time I began again
to believe in my fellow-creatures and in
LADY LAURA. 239
the existence of a law of right and wrong,
but not '
*Not in God?'
^ No, that belief has never come
' Do you wish that it should ? Can
you be happy without it ? '
Cassandra could bear no more : this in-
sistance upon being happy wore a look of
insult to her. She broke out impatiently,
' It is not fah to make my happiness the
test of truth. I am as happy as other
people are, when things go well with me
within and without. You do not sup-
pose, do you, that people who believe in
God are always happy, any more than
they that always do right? It is idle
cant to pretend that they are, and of no
use to you, or me, or any one.'
She spoke with a vehement scorn that
made Laura wince. She had not meant
to wound her cousin, and did not under-
240 LADY LAURA.
stand what she had said to make her so
'I am very sorry if I have said any-
thing silly,' she said.
Cassandra was sorry too.
'No, no,' she said; * it is I who am
silly to lose my temper. The fact is, you
only hinted what all the orthodox world
says in one way or another, that we who
do not helieve must be wrong because
we are not altogether and always happy ;
and I made a vicarious sacrifice of you.
But all the same it is a mistake to think
about happiness when you are seeking
truth. . . . Oh, Laura, Laura, there is
very little happiness in the world — so
little that I sometimes think that the
chief use of religion is to teach us to be
content without it.'
Cassandra stopped ; her voice was
broken by tears, and she could not trust
herself to say more.
LADY LAURA. 241
'But if- there is so little happiness/
said Laura, ' surely there is peace for
those who are doing right ? '
*Yes, there is peace at the end for
those who have fought on so as to escape
remorse. But peace is not what you
think. Life is an awful struggle, and
peace conies only now and then when
we are tired out. Or it waits for us, and
we find it at last when we are old and it
is too late for happiness. But very few
Cassandra spoke in a tone of weary
despair that discouraged Laura from
pressing her further. And yet she could
not rest satisfied without getting some
advice from her as to how she should
act in the present crisis. After a silence
of a few minutes she said, —
' I think we have wandered away from
the point. What I want you to tell me
is what you think would be right for me
VOL. n. 16
242 LADV LAURA.
to do. It does not seem right to change
all one's opinions for the sake of ... .
of some one person that one cares for.
But then I think that, whatever I decided
to do, I could not go back to my old way
of thinking. Sometimes the new way
seems wrong, but more often I think it
is really more right and more noble than
the other. And then again — I don't know
— it may only seem right because I wish
to think it so. And I want to do right —
I do really, Cassandra, though I cannot
help wishing to be happy too. I cannot
help it, if I am not as strong as you are.
What am I to do ? '
While she was speaking they had come
to a stile, and Laura, instead of crossing
it, had stopped walking and leaned against
the wooden rail. Cassandra was obliged
to wait too, and in order to avoid Laura's
eyes, she busied herself with nipping the
brown buds off a branch of young elm
LADY LAURA. 243
that overhung the stile. Every word of
Laura's was a stab, and for every stab she
must by-and-by give payment in help
and sympathy. In the meantime she
must vent her pain somehow — and the
innocent elm-buds fell, to save Laura
from revelations that would have scared
her from the happiness she was on the
point of grasping.
But when Laura put the direct question,
Cassandra could avoid her eyes no longer ;
she let the elm-bough swing back and
turned with desperate resolution towards
* What are you to do ? ' she said ;
'why marry Maurice Heme of course,
if your father and mother will let you.
He cares for you and you care for
him. You will soon think alike on all
subjects, and you will make one another
Then she moved away from the stile.
244 LADV LAURA.
and, remarking that it was time to turn
back, began to walk homeward.
She had said just what Laura wished
her to say, and yet Laura felt as if she
had given her a blow, for there was a
note of irony in her voice as she said,
'You will soon think alike on all sub-
jects and you will make one another
happy,' — as if to think alike and to be
happy were a sort of childish folly with
which she could not sympathise and
would rather hear no more about.
Poor Cassandra ! it had cost her much
to say those words. To say them at all
was heroic, and yet they sounded cruel to
Laura, as a sacrifice of bulls and goats
might seem mere butchery to an on-
looker, ignorant of the sacrificial meaning
of the act. Certainly she did not mean
to be ironical, but our words sometimes
take on a tone without consulting our
will, and Cassandra's mood just then was
LADY LAURA. 245
not free from that bitterness tinged with
contempt which those who have seen
storm and shipwreck entertain for idlers
who trim their pleasure-boats to sail
beneath a summer sky.
They walked back to the village in
silence, and as they parted at the rectory
gate both felt that their affection for one
another had suffered a hurt. It seemed
to Laura that Cassandra had failed in
tenderness at a moment when tenderness
was especially due ; and to Cassandra, in
spite of great efforts to be charitable, it
seemed that Laura was unpardonably
obtuse in the absorbing egoism of her
Many things, having full reference to one consent, may
;HILE Laura was telling her
story to Cassandra, Lady St.
Asaph was nervously awaiting
her at home. She had received two
letters, one from Lady Sarah and one
from Lord Khoos, hoth alluding to
Laura's love-affair as a thing which must
have been already confided to her. Lady
Sarah seemed very clear on the sub-
ject, satisfied that Heme and Laura
were well-suited to one another, and full
of arguments against all possible objec-
tions that might be raised. Lord Khoos
LADY LAURA. 247
merely said that having heard from
Sarah of Heme's proposal to Lam-a, he
had put off going to Paris for a few days
in order to come down to Ardgwen and
talk the matter over.
Lady St. Asaph read the letters with
a sense of bewilderment. Laura had
said nothing to her on the subject, and
Laura was not wont to have secrets
from her. For the rest, she was not
entirely unprepared. The reader re-
members perhaps that when the party
at Llanoun broke up, the Walworths and
Lady Mary Yane had come on to Ard-
gwen. Lady Mary had lost no time in
warning her mother of the dangerous
position in which she considered that
Laura stood towards Maurice Heme ; and
there had been much discussion on the
subject, in the course of which Lady St.
Asaph had the satisfaction of receiving
back from her daughter many admirable
248 LADV LAURA.
theories and maxims which she had her-
self instilled into her long ago. Lady
Mary said how she believed Laura to
be in a very sentimental frame of mind,
and how she thought it a great pity that
a more practical direction had not been
given to her training — she had always
observed that these foolish attachments
were the result of a vague up-bringing.
At which Lady St. Asaph winced, for she
was conscious of having let Laura grow
up with very little direction. She had
grown doubtful in her middle-age of
many of the theories of her youth, and
having conscientiously trained three
daughters in the way her earlier principles
said they should go, she had allowed the
fourth to take the way of her own tastes
and temperament. But her conscience
had never been quite easy in so doing, and
now that it was hinted plainly that she had
been blamable, she was without defence.
LADY LAURA. 249
She could only ask what there was
in Maurice Heme that made an attach-
ment to him of necessity foolish, at
which Mary shrugged her shoulders
and remarked dryly that a man of
thirty who had not succeeded in making
more mark in the world than he had
could hardly be hero enough to justify
an attachment against which there
were so many a ^priori objections. And
in this opinion Lady Walworth had con-
curred. To her mind that sort of man
was altogether a mistake. It was not
because he was poor that she objected to
him, or that she was exclusive about
birth. Nothing of that sort. Maurice
Heme was welcome to be anybody's son,
or nobody's. She would not have cared
if he had be m a cobbler or a stone-
mason, provided he stood well on his
legs and let the world know that he
chose to be a cobbler or a stonemason.
2SO LADY LAURA.
But she objected to Laura's marrying
a man wlio was' clerk in a Government
office merely because he had been too
indolent to make himself anything else.
Maurice Heme was a pleasant enough
fellow as he was, and she was always glad
to have him at her house. But then,
when he was married, things would be
considerably changed. He and Laura
would just be able to scramble along and
keep two servants and go nowhere. ^ The
fact is,' said Lady Walworth, * there are
some people who are like kittens, veiy
nice till they settle down into middle-
aged cats, when they are apt to be rather
in the way. And Maurice Heme, unless
I am much mistaken, is one of these.'
It was not very long ago that Lady St.
Asaph herself had spoken of Heme some-
what slightingly as a person who wanted
backbone. And the recollection of this
prevented her from directly contradicting
LADY LAURA. 251
her daughter's opinion. Besides which
Lanra was her favourite child, and her
great love for her disposed her to be
rather exacting as to the qualities of the
man to whom she should be given. But
then, on the other hand, her very love for
Laura disinclined her to say aught against
the man on whom she had bestowed her
affection. The idea that Laura cared for
him placed him on a pedestal and made
his very- weaknesses look like virtues
misunderstood. So she gave evasive
answers to her daughters, and professed
to think that their solicitude was, to say
the least of it, premature.
But this afternoon's letters proved that
it was not so. Heme had evidently pro-
posed to Laura while they were staying
at Llanoun, and the time for evasion was
past. She must speak to Laura on the
subject as soon as she came in, and she
must make up her own mind definitely
252 LADV LAURA.
for or against the marriage. This was
no easy task to Lady St. Asaph, and she
found herself reading her son's letter
over and over again in the vain hope
that she might discover some indication
of the side to which he leaned ; for
since he had bestirred himself to come
down and discuss the matter, she felt
that much deference would be due to his
opinion, — or rather she knew that which-
ever way her own sympathies might tend,
her action would finally be guided by
him. For strong-minded woman as she
was. Lady St. Asaph was much in fear of
this eldest son of hers, whose way of life
she wholly disapproved and whose pro-
bable opinion on any subject in heaven
or earth she was always helpless to
anticipate. She could defy her daugh-
ters ; she had the courage when necessary
to go contrary to her own traditions ; she
had ruled her husband for years, but she
LADV LAURA. 253
was a coward in the presence of her son.
She feared him somewhat as ignorant
populations fear heavenly bodies of
eccentric and incalculable orbits.
She was still engaged in reading over
his letter, when Laura came in perturbed
and tearful from her unsatisfactory inter-
view with Cassandra. She was eager
now to confide in her mother and in-
clined to be sure of sympathy, if for no
better reason than that she needed it
* I have heard from Sarah,' said Lady
St. Asaph ; ^ and she has told me
But why did you not tell me yourself,
my child ? '
Laura could not say why, and did not
attempt to do so. She was only glad
that the ice was broken, and, without
more ado, she sat down beside her mother
and told her story over again.
It was such a story as Lady St.
254 LADY LAURA.
Asaph would probably have heard with
strong disapprobation twenty or thirty
years ago ; perhaps even now, had the
heroine been any other than Laura.
Her own youth had been lived with-
out sympathy, and her own marriage
had been entered upon without love.
And in arranging the marriages of her
elder daughters she had been true to the
traditions of her youth, and had thought
more of a certain dignified fitness than of
any special affinity of heart and spirit.
Indeed though her womanly instinct ex-
cluded for her children as for herself
marriages that were not capable of
developing a sort of dutiful affection
between husband and wife, the most
worldly match-making was hardly more
repugnant to her feelings than a passion
that could carry a girl into forgetfulness
of the traditions of her birth and breeding.
The abandonment of such passionate
LADY LAURA. 255
attachments revolted lier sense of the
supreme obHgation to be at all times
dignified and decorous, and she seldom let
pass an opportunity of expressing herself
strongly in this sense. But, though her
expressed opinions on the subject of
matrimony had remained honourably con-
sistent, her feehngs had undergone a
very considerable change since the days
when she consented to marry Lord St.
Asaph. She had learned that something
had been wanting to her own marriage.
And now, as she listened to Laura's
faltering confession of how she had
learned to love the stranger, it seemed
to her that a new revelation had come
to her in her old age, and she forgot
prudence and gave herself up to sym-
pathy. And when at last Laura said,
^What shall I do, mother? He will
write in a day or two. He will come, I
think. What will you say to him ?
256 LADY LAURA,
What may I do ? ' the only advice she
could give was that Laura should follow
her own heart. * If you love him, marry
him,' she said. * You will he happy.'
Laura was startled. She had expected
her mother to be gentle and sympathetic,
because to lier she was never otherwise,
but she had not looked for such un-
measured sympathy as this.
^ Do you mean it ? ' she asked. * But
what will my father say — and Ehoos and
the others ? '
Lady St. Asaph felt uncomfortable ;
she had forgotten about Ehoos for the
moment, and did not quite know how
to answer now. She rose from her seat
and began pacing up and down the room
while Laura sat wondering at the strange
turn that things were taking. Some-
how since that day when Heme first
came to Ardgwen and proved a wholly
different person from what she had im-
LADY LAURA. 257
agined, everything had gone contrary to
her expectation, but nothing that had
yet happened had siirprised her more
than the girl-like eagerness with which
her mother had given the reins to her
sympathy and overleaped the obstacles
that had seemed formidable even to
* Do you really mean it, mother ? ' she
'Yes, yes, I mean it,' said Lady St.
Asaph, still pacing up and down the
room and speaking with agitation ; ' I
mean it. There is no happiness in
marriage without love. I did not think
it always, but it is true nevertheless.
I have felt it I mean, I have seen
it. Life is difficult, and one must do
one's duty. But it is easier when one
loves Much easier. You will be very
happy, my child.'
There was a strange expression in
VOL. n. 17
258 LADY LAURA.
Lady St. Asaph's face, a strange emotion
at her heart. She looked with a sort of
wistful envy on this young daughter to
whom she knew that she ought to preach
w^orldly wisdom. She could not do it ;
she felt rather incHned to bid Laura
preach to her.
So she told her son, when he came in
^ I have been a fool/ she said, * but I
could not help it. And it will be the
same if I have to speak to her again. If
the marriage is not to be, you must tell
her so — I cannot.'
' H'm,' said Ehoos.
' I know you are thinking it is all my
fault for having let him come here in the
first instance. I never thought of any-
thing of this kind happening. With
your other sisters, things were different.
And then we all believed him to be in
love with Cassandra.'
LADY LAURA. 259
' H'm,' said Ehoos again.
^Did not ijoii think he was going to
marry Cassandra ? '
' Well, no, I can't say I did exactly.
He only cared for her theoretically.'
* Bat she cares for him. You think
that ? '
' To say so now would he hardly chival-
rous, nor yet much to the point ; Cas-
sandra, not having heen proposed to by
Heme, cannot marry him ; Laura on the
other hand lias been proposed to, and
her case is ripe for consideration.'
* What is your opinion ? '
' I really don't know that I have one.
What is yours ? '
^ Laura is very much in love with him.'
* So Sarah told me. The storm startled
her into a sort of declaration.'
^Hardly that,' said Lady St. Asaph,
jealous for her daughter's dignity. ^ But
she seems to have betrayed very strong
26o LADY LAURA.
feeling for liim ; so strong that I should
say, unless there are very serious objec-
tions to the marriage, it should be allowed.
Otherwise it seems to me that '
* In fact you think that Laura's — what
I must not call declaration — has com-
promised her dignity. Is not that it,
mother ? '
* I have some such feeling,' said Lady
St. Asaph. ^ What do you think your-
*As a man, I cannot pretend to an
opinion on such a delicate question as
a woman's dignity.'
' That is unfair. Men marry women
and cannot therefore pretend to have
no opinion on what relates to their
conduct. Put the case of a woman you
were in love with '
* All would depend on circumstances.
If I were in love with a woman, and she
were kind enough to teU me unasked
LADY LAURA. 261
that she was in love with me, I should
certainly think she ought to marry me ;
but, if she made the same declaration to
another man, I should think she ought
not to marry him, as her doing so would
interfere with my own designs. Such
questions cannot be decided upon abstract
' How are they to be decided then ? '
Lord Ehoos shrugged his shoulders.
' By expediency, self-interest, and resig
nation to the inevitable.'
' I do not understand you,' said Lady
St. Asaph. ^ Why will you not tell me
plainly what you think ought to be
done ? '
* Because I don't know. Probably
Heme ought to be sent about his busi-
ness, and Laura married out of hand to
some more eligible person. But, then, I
ought equally to marry an eligible person
and do a thousand things that I never
262 LADY LAURA.
shall do, simply because I can't. What
ought to be done is an unpractical ques-
tion — I gave it up long ago.'
^ Then you think Laura had better
marry him ? '
Lady St. Asaph spoke as timidly as
though it were her own future that was
hanging in the scales.
^It is probably the best thing she
* He is very poor.'
* Women like poverty. Besides, my
father's interest will get him something.'
^ Your father's interest is Conservative,
and Maurice Heme is an advanced
* Extremes meet. Heme has been
discovering lately that Kadicalism is only
the latest development of Conservatism.
Tory interest, as a stepping-stone to
Laura's hand, will complete his conver-
LADY LAURA. 263
^You think him weak.'
* No. He is bitten with impracticable
notions and as inconsistent as most people
who want to be better than their neigh-
bours. Not more so.'
' You like him ? '
* And your father likes him ? '
' But you doubt his liking the mar-
riage ? '
' He will want persuading. But I will
undertake the business if you like.'
' How will you do it ? '
* I shall tell him that Heme is coming
to ask his permission to marry Laura.
He will be indignant on principle. I
shall accept his objections as decisive
and offer to write instantly and tell
Heme not to come — alluding incidentally
to the impossibility of his ever being seen
in the house again. This will lead to
264 LADV LAURA.
reconsideration. My father will reflect
that Heme is a pleasant fellow — the only
man in short that he cares much to
cultivate. We shall discuss the thing
over again and discover possibiHties not
thought of before ; and the end of it will
be that Heme will come and be received
as son-in-law elect. Will you trust the
thing to me ? '
' Thankfully,' said Lady St. Asaph.
And then, blushing as Lam^a herself
might have blushed, she added, 'You
do not know how happy you have made
me. I thought you would take the
worldly view. I can hardly believe now
that you will not change your mind.'
Khoos dreaded a scene. He moved
away and answered drily, —
'No, my sympathies are really enlisted.
Laura is as unfit, in her way, for correct
life in the best English society as I am
in mine. She would not succeed as a
LADY LAURA. 265
great lady, and family pride makes me
wish to spare her a failure.'
Lady St. Asaph said nothing : she
feared she had made a fool of herself
* Has anything been seen of Cassandra
since this affair ? ' asked Ehoos after a
* Laura was with her to day. I do not
know what passed between them. Why
do you ask ? '
^ H'm,' said Ehoos once more. And
there the conversation ended.
Ehoos found his father rather more
difficult to manage than he had anti-
cipated. Nevertheless, the result of
their interview substantially justified his
confidence. And before he returned to
London, it was arranged that, though
there was to be no actual engagement
just yet and no correspondence between
the lovers, still if they both continued
266 LADY LAURA.
in the same mind and something could
be found which would add a little to
Heme's income, the subject might be
reopened at the end of six months. In
the meantime Laura was to go to London
and prove her constancy amid the pomps
and glories of a * season.' Lady Wal-
worth was to chaperone her, and it was
understood that, as far as possible, she
was to be guarded against meeting
' O sovereign power of love ! O grief ! balm !
All records, saving thine, come cool, and calm,
And shadowy, through the mist of passed years ;
For others, good or bad, hatred and tears
Have become indolent ; but touching thine,
One sigh doth echo, one poor sob doth pine.
One kiss brings honey-dew from buried days.'
N a corner of Cassandra's room
there stood an old-fasliioned
oak cupboard, rudely carved on
the outside, and furnished within with
many drawers cunningly contrived as
Cassandra had taken a fancy to it at
a second-hand furniture shop at Cresford
one holiday-time many years ago, and
268 LADY LAURA,
had bought it with her pocket-money —
thinking it would be a convenient shrine
in which to deposit all those treasures
of correspondence and young literary
effort that marked for her the beginning
of an individual mental life.
In it she stowed away the small yearly
volumes of her journal; the bulkier ones
into which she copied all that charmed
her most in reading, the letters that she
valued, and her own attempts at compo-
sition; and, later, the memorials of her
friendship with Maurice Heme.
It was years since she had opened it —
years since she had felt any inclination to
add to its stores. And yet she carried
in her mind a pretty accurate inventory
of its contents ; and of some of those
hoarded relics the thought was almost
hourly with her.
Just now they haunted her with espe-
cial intensity, and after that walk with
LADY LAURA. 269
Laura, she frequently found herseK Knger-
ing before the long-neglected cupboard
and playing wistfully with its key. It
seemed to her that, behind those panels
of carved wood-work, there hved yet the
past with which she was now called
to break for ever, and she yearned
as passionately for a last communing
with it as a dying one yearns for a last
embrace of the beloved whose sole pre-
sence makes the world worthy of regret.
But as the stern monitions of priestly
counsellors might intervene between a
soul claimed for a passionless eternity
and such last indulgence of unhallowed
passion, so all thoughts of prudence for-
bade the act to which she leaned. She
knew that to open those doors, and
pore over the papers they enclosed, would
be to let loose the emotions it was
already hardly possible for her to stem —
to turn back and embrace temptations
270 LADY LAURA.
from which she had been long-time
flying. And again and again she thrust
the key back into her pocket and turned
resolutely from the tempting doors to
busy herself about some forced occu-
pation in the house or the village.
But at last one night she yielded.
Through hours of troubled sleep and
feverish waking, the cupboard and its
contents had haunted her. Winter
moonlight was flooding the room, cruelly
illumining her loneliness. She ached
for sympathy. She could forego it no
longer. The past should give it her,
since the present denied it.
She got out of bed and possessed her-
self once more of the key. In a moment
she had unlocked the door, and the little
system of drawers that she had not seen
for so many years was open before her.
Which should she ransack first ? The
deep lower one in which were stored her
LADV LAURA. 271
letters from Maurice and the rolls of her
manuscript freely annotated in his hand ?
Her fingers closed around its handle,
but they trembled so that she could not
No, she would not open that drawer
yet — she would look at some of her
earher treasures first, and come to these
later ones step by step, as they had come
to her in actual fact.
She took out one of the upper drawers
and emptied its contents upon her bed.
They consisted chiefly of extracts from
favourite writers, and one or two indif-
ferent poetic effusions of her own. They
did not interest her much. Neither did
the moral essays, nor the closely-written
jom-nals, nor the unfinished romance that
filled the next, and the next, and the
next. But she glanced through them
all in order, with a feeling that to make
a systematic revision of her past was to
272 LADY LAURA.
justify in a manner the final indulgence
to which it was the approach.
At last the turn of the lower drawer
She no longer hesitated, but drew it
out quickly and set it on her writing-
table. Then, kneeling before it, she be-
gan to empty it with eager, trembling
hands. At the top lay a little vellum
book with gilt clasps and corners. She
did not want to look at that now — she
laid it on the table behind the drawer.
Next came the rolls of manuscript — the
last Heme had sent back to her from
Oxford. The very paper in which they
had travelled still curled round them,
and she could read her address written
on them in his hand.
She opened one roll and began reading
half-aloud to herself. This was a maturer
work than the pages of poetry and ethics
that occupied the other drawers. It was
LADY LAURA. 273
a translation of Faust, undertaken at
Heme's suggestion in the days when
they were most together. Their plan
had heen to publish it with a critical
study in the form of a dialogue, which
should take the drama as its text and
evolve from it the religious futm-e of the
world. Only a very small part of the
dialogue had ever been completed; and
the translation, though substantially
written, had never undergone final re-
vision, for, while it was still in hand, the
quarrel had happened which had stopped
their friendship and all its pleasant re-
sults, and Cassandi'a had never had the
heai-t to finish alone the task they had
She began reading her translation, and
started — half in pain, half in pleasui'e — at
the discovery that it was a much greater
work than she had believed at the time
she was engaged upon it. The theme
VOL. II. 18
274 LADY LAURA.
had been an inspiring one. The disap-
pointed philosopher eager to part with
all his knowledge in exchange for a day
of vanished youth, the man of pleasure
consumed by inextinguishable remorse
for the ruin of his plaything, the long
seeking through the mazes of all time
and thought for the day worth bid-
ding linger, the final satisfaction in the
work of human usefulness — had been her
gospel ; and, unconsciously, she had inter-
preted with genius the genius of the poet.
She recognised this now, and wondered
how it might have told upon her destiny
if she had published the work years ago.
Then, impatient of the vain specula-
tion, she pushed away the manuscript
and turned to Heme's own letters. One
by one, she took them from their yellow
covers and read them in the order in
which they had been written. And as
she read them by the Hght of her ripe
LADV LAURA. 275
woman's experience, she saw clearly,
between the lines of friendship and affec-
tion, the half- suppressed expression of
the love she had underrated at the time
when the letters were written. Then she
had attended to the matter of the letters
— discussing the theories, laughing over
anecdotes, sympathising with the sen-
timents, encouraging the aspirations.
Now all these seemed of very small
account, — the theories were in great
part exploded or discovered to be old
truisms under new names, the senti-
ments and aspirations had had small
result in action, the anecdotes were of
people who had faded from her memory.
But the devotion to herself, that breathed
in every page, was fresh and living ; and,
as she read, a sense of triumph came to her.
He had loved her first, and first love
was best. What could he give to Laura
that could compare with what he had
276 LADY LAURA.
given lier? The firstfruits of his man-
hood had been hers, and Laura could
not take them from her. She had had
his promise : to Laura he would give his
failure. And the future would avenge her.
For had she not evidence that the
past was not quite dead for him ? That
evening, when she sang, had he not come
back to her with full devotion ? That
other evening, when he stood over her
and asked her for one word, — promising
that the future should be moulded by it, —
was he not in earnest ? She might have
held him then if she had not been so
proud, she might have been happy if she
had not been mad.
And even now was it too late ? He
would be coming to Ardgwen, and they
would meet, and she could recall him
if she would. A song would do it, a
word, a look ! And why should she for-
bear ? For whose sake ? For Laura's ?
LADY LAURA. 277
Would Laura care to marry him if she
could see these letters and know the full
significance of the scenes at the piano
and in the library ?
Cassandi'a's face grew very hard in the
moonhght. The last letter was read and
returned to its cover. And she stood by
the table looking hungrily into the drawer
that was empty now, save for a few torn
fragments of cardboard that lay scat-
tered at the bottom. Some touches of
colour on one of them caught her eye
and started a new train of memories.
The bits of cardboard were fragments
of a sketch she had made of Made-
moiselle Azvedo in the days when she
worshipped her, and had torn to pieces
afterwards in the rage of her disap-
pointment. She had entirely forgotten
that they were there, and now, as she
identified them, she was conscious of a
leap of sympathy towards the sinning
278 LADY LAURA.
woman whom she had so mercilessly
condemned when life was still a thing
She felt no inclination to condemn her
now. She was conscious of thoughts that
lowered her to her level, of passionate
impulses that might master her in an
unguarded moment, of moods in which
she almost prayed to be led into tempta-
tion. Between her and the outlawed
woman whose picture she had disfigured
in her girlish indignation she felt that
there was little difference now but what
was due to circumstances. And Cas-
sandi-a was no Pharisee. For her, the
whited sepulchre was a place of corrup-
tion equally with the unwhited.
' Poor sinning woman ! ' she thought ;
* perhaps you too had striven to be good.
Perhaps you suffered and were lonely.
And perhaps I, some day '
But there she checked her thought.
LADV LAURA. 279
Her fingers played nervously witk the
bits of cardboard ; she wondered whether
they were all there; she wanted to see
the face again.
Suddenly it occurred to her that it
might be possible to restore it, and she
began putting the pieces together. The
occupation fascinated her — she grew
absorbed in it, and forgot the letters and
papers that had engrossed her a few
moments before. Bit by bit the picture
grew together, till at last the whole face
was before her — the beautiful face that
had once exercised such a powerful in-
fluence upon her. She stood a little
back and looked at it.
The face was very beautiful, certainly ;
but somehow it no longer fascinated her.
There was something in it that repelled
her. She wished that she had not re-
Then, with a sudden movement of
28o LADY LAURA.
compunction, she bent down and kissed it
tenderly, as though it had been the face of
a sister whom she had ignorantly wronged.
As she did so, an accidental movement
of her arm pushed aside the drawer and
dislodged the little vellum book that
rested on the edge of the table. It fell
against the fender, and its corners rang
hard upon the steel. Cassandra started
in terror, unable for a moment to resist
the impression that the noise was of
supernatural origin. She was however
quickly reassured by seeing the book
Ipng on the floor.
As she stooped to pick it up the door
opened and her mother entered.
* Cassandra, what is the matter ? ' she
asked anxiously. ^ I heard a noise. Are
you ill? What are you doing with all
those letters ? '
It was painful to Cassandra to be
interrupted at such a moment, and she
LADY LAURA. 281
would have given much that her mother
should not see the papers with which
she had heen occupied ; for, on all the
things to which they related, there had
been silence between them always, and
she could not bring herself suddenly to
lay bare her griefs. She could not open
her heart to her mother, and, that being
the case, her p esence was an added
She made no attempt however to con-
ceal either the picture or the letters that
lay on the table : such small artifices
were not in her way.
She came forward and took her mother's
hand, meaning to lead her back to her
room and say simply that just now she
could not be disturbed. But when she
looked into her mother's face, she ex-
perienced a sudden revulsion of feeling.
The expression of it was very sad, and
the eyes were red with weeping — they
282 LADV LAURA.
showed signs of more than one night's
sleeplessness. Cassandi'a knew instinc-
tively that she was herself the cause
of the tears and the sleeplessness. Her
mother was grieving apart for her,
longing for the confidence she could
Cassandra often pitied herself for having
a mother who could not enter into her
hest thoughts and most real life ; now she
reproached herself for being a daughter
who was so little daughter-like. She
laid her hands gently on her mother's
shoulders and kissed the worn face ten-
derly — as she had kissed that of the
singing-mistress a few seconds ago.
* Dear mother,' she said, * there is
nothing the matter. It was only a
little book that fell and made a noise.
I am so sorry it disturbed you.'
*But why are you not in bed, my
child ? You should not sit up all night
LADY LAURA. 283
like ttds. You will be ill. Why do you
do it ? '
* I do not do it as a habit, mother. I
was looking through old letters, and they
interested me. I could not tear myself
away from them. But now I am going
to bed as soon as I have cleared away
all this litter.'
* Let me help you. And then I will put
you to bed.'
Cassandra shook her head.
* Then let me wait while you put the
papers away. I want to see you in bed.
It makes me uneasy to know you are
unhappy; for you are unhappy.'
Cassandra had sat down on the bed.
Her mother's presence was becoming
torture. She rocked herself backwards
and forwards with her hands clasped
over her head.
^ You are unhappy,' urged the mother.
* Yes, yes,' said Cassandra. * I am
284 LADY LAURA.
unhappy, and yon are nnhappy, and it is
a sad world, mother. But it cannot be
' Tell me what makes you unhappy,'
Mrs. Gwynne persisted.
* Mother, I cannot. It is not my fault —
but I cannot,^
Tl: ere was a ring of agony in Cassan-
dra's voice that came with sharp reproach
to her mother's heart. She rose meekly,
meaning to go.
' No, no,' she said, 4t is not your fault,
it is mine. I know it — I say it to myself
often. I ought not to have sent you
away from me. But I was weak. — May
God forgive me, and bless and comfort
you at last.'
^ Mother ! ' cried Cassandra ; and she
clung round her mother's neck, and sobbed
upon her shoulder as she used to do when
she was a little child.
While the embrace lasted, mother and
LADY LAURA. 285
daughter felt very near to one another.
But tears and caresses are but imperfect
means of expression between human be-
ings, and articulate confidences remained
impossible to Cassandra. And so when
Mrs. Gwynne went back to her room she
was still in ignorance of the secret of her
Cassandra returned to the writing-table
and began replacing the papers in the
She no longer felt any incHnation to
linger over them. The past was still
sweet to her, but she turned resolutely
fi'om its memories. The likeness of
Mademoiselle Azvedo was as beautiful
as ever, but she swept her hand over
it and reduced it again to unintelligible
fragments. She was still lonely, and her
future looked even drearier in the grey
dawn than in the glistening moonhght
of an hour ago. Her mother had used no
286 LADY LAURA.
arguments, and she had made no attempt
to reason with herself. But, through that
short interview, she had passed into a
new phase of feehng, in which she felt
ashamed of the selfishness of the mood
it had displaced. What right had she to
he so greedy for happiness while so many-
were unhappy ? What right to be reck-
less and unprincipled while her life was
a care to another? The vision of her
mother's sadness touched her with a
keen remorse. She knew herself to be
the cause of it, and she could do nothing
to reheve it. But she could add to it
by giving the rein to such thoughts as
had been with her to-night. And this
she would not do. For her mother's
sake she would still try to be good and
resist the temptations of despair.
It was generally so with Cassandra.
All strong currents of emotion were sure
sooner or later to carry her beyond the
LADY LAURA. 287
personal joy or grief, in which they had
their origin, into some larger channel of
sympathy with others. But hers was a
nature to wliich abstract names of right
and wrong appealed but weakly; the
faith she lived by was fed by no personal
or impersonal hopes to be realised in an
inconceivable hereafter; right was not
right for her imless it would bear fruit
in visible increase of human happiness,
nor wrong wrong unless it added to the
great tale of human woe ; to do justice
though the heavens fell was a motto of
insanity, for justice was not justice unless
it bore the heavens up. Hence, moods
of scepticism were very frequent with her
in the long waiting times that go before
the harvest, and she was quick to cry out
that sacrifice had been in vain and right
life a mad ideal — to repent of unselfish
action and cry out with passionate
egoism for a fuller share of the joys of
288 LADY LAURA.
humanity. But from such moods the
sHghtest hint of another's pain never
failed to call her back. While any
suffered because wrong had been done,
she would suffer with them; while any
toiled, however madly, along the hard
path of right, she would stand by them ;
for joy would be no joy to her if it came
stained with the tears of her brothers.
So many a time has the image of a
crucified God proved a more potent
appeal to the fidelity of Christians than
the joys or terrors of a far-off heaven
or hell, and the ranks of the martyi^s
have in all ages been fed by chivalrous
loyalty to those who have suffered before.
Cassandra replaced the torn picture at
the bottom of the drawer and heaped
Heme's letters on the top of it; and
then she put the drawer back into its
place, locked the cupboard, and thrust
the key into an unhandy place. But the
LADY LAURA. 289
Faust manuscript she purposely kept out,
thinking that in completing it she might
find a wholesome distraction for her mind
during the trying months that lay before
The little vellum book remained out
also. By accident she had left it lying on
the floor. She discovered it after she
had closed the cupboard, and, as she
picked it up, she began involuntarily to
read the passage at which it had opened
in falling : —
^ What name shall we give to the holy
influence that rises, incense-lihe, from the
stream of the great human life to brood
above the chaos of the universe — to the
infinite "power , many in one^ that folds us
in its care and saves us, if ive trust it,
from sinking to the level of the beasts that
* We can no longer call it the Spirit of
VOL. II. 19
290 LADY LAURA.
God J for God has become to us a dethroned
idol, a hieroglyph of which tve Jcnoiv not
the reading, a riddle darkened by the con-
fused counsels of impatient ignorance,
' We hesitate to call it Providence, for
it seems to us blind in its beneficence.
Bight is done to-day, and the ivorld is
blessed on some distant morrow when he
ivho wrought the blessing has fallen asleep
doubting whether all his worJc have not
issued in a curse. Love is lavished, and
the loved one is not purified by it, but an
onlooTcer is touched tvith pity and the
heart of a stranger grows more human.
Lives are poured out liJce water for causes
that are not true, and the true cause is
bettered by the devotion that strove
' The power is blind, but 2ve will not
call it Chance, for it obeys an unerring
law, though one so subtle that we cannot
trace its loorJcings. Evil and good are
mixed^ hut good is not evil nor evil good,
and the fruits of each are after its oivn
Mild, We may he touched to glorious
issues hy a gleam from an inglorious life,
or taught to love the highest hy lips that
have themselves hissed baseness. But not
therefore need ive say that all is contra-
diction. It 10 as not the evil in the sinner
that charmed our sense lihe music, nor
the haseness that thrilled our hearts to
nohleness ; hut rather the undying good
the evil cannot quench — the deferred pro-
mise that is not tvholly hrohen,
^ The jpotoer is good, hut ive zvill not
call it Goodness. For oftentimes the spot-
less ones go hy and virtue comes not from
the77i, the pure ones divell among us and
save none hut themselves, the righteous
meet us in the way and rehuJce without
* The power is reasonable , hut ive will
not call it Beason. Nor Might, though
292 LADY LAURA.
it is migJdy. For Beason is cold and
cannot quicken, and Might is pitiless and
crushes. And the Saving Poiuer is warm
and tender and life-giving as the bosom
of a mother.
' We dare not call it God, But ivhat
can we say of it that has not heen said of
God 1 Liilie tlie Father it creates. Lihe
the Son it redeems, Lihe the Spirit it
comforts. And wheresoever two or three
are gathered together in bonds of human
fellowship, it is there in the midst of them
to strengthen and to bless.
' We say we will not call it God. And
yet no loiver name contents. And so when
men say to us that God is Love, ive are
constrained to ansiver Love is God.
' But some tuill say, Where is this Love
of which you speak .^ We cannot find
it, we do not know it. There are none
who give us good-speed ivhen tve go forth
to our work in the morning, or luho luatch
LADV LAURA. 293
for our return at evening. Alone zve
have lived, and alone loe must die. It
is cruel to speali to us of a Love that
^ And the Spirit of Love will answer,
My name is on your lips, hut your
hearts are closed against me. You
cry, ^^ "Where, lohereV and complain
that you cannot find me. And all the
while I am hnocliing at your hearts and
you ivill not let me in. Your "brothers
crowd around you — they are hungry and
cold and nahed — they are sad and lonely-
hearted — they stretch out their hands to
you and find no help. You do not hear
them, you do not see them — you Jcnoiv
only your oiun emptiness, your hearts are
filled with the sense of your own lorieli-
ness. There is no place in them for me.
' And others ivill say ivith a bitterer
sorroiv, We Tcneiv it once and we trusted
it. We gave it our hearts, and it pressed
294 LADY LAURA.
the life-blood from them, and gave them
back to Its cold and dead. We loved and
were loved. But our loved ones are gone
from us. And noio we are alone and
desolate, and we do not believe in the
'poioer of Love to save and comfort.
' A7id again the Spirit will answer,
I came to you in a human form, clothed
with beauty and tenderness. I brought
you the joys of love, and filled your life
with stveetness. I blessed you in order
that you might bless. But you tooJc my
gifts and forgot 7ny commandments. In
your happiness, you strove not to maJce
others happy. Being blessed, you did not
bless. And so love died within you, and
my blessing was taken away.
' And others, again, will say upon their
knees. We do not doubt the power of Love,
we are not strangers to its stveetness. We
are not iveary of helloing or impatient
because the fruits of our labours are small.
LADY LAURA. 295
We hnow that if we reaio little, it is
because we have sown little. But we are
sad because we have so little to sow
because our hearts are cold and our
Jmnds em'pty. We have helj^ed others, and
loe are ourselves without heli^ ; we are
hungry, and can find no food — troubled,
and tve hnow not where to turn for rest.
And for shame we cannot s^eak i^eace
to others lohile there is no [peace in our
' And to these the Spirit ivill say. Not
all at once can I bless all my children
ivholly. For lo I I myself am not whole
— not one like the God of your fathers.
Like you I am broken by sorrow, and torn
by doubt and division. I dwell not in
Heaven throned and mighty, but on earth
in tveakness and suffering. I have no
existence of myself, I live but in the
hearts of my children. I live while you
cherish me. When you doubt vie I Ian-
296 LADV LAURA.
guish, and if all men should deny me, I
should cease to he. But while one heart
Jcnoivs me and clings to me, I may still
^ Therefore if your oivn hearts are cold
and em'pty seeJc me in the hearts of others.
And if any ash you for 'peace, and as yet
you have no ^eace, confess that you are
desolate, and asJc help of those ivho sought
help of you. And as you join hands in
sympathy ivith your hrothers I shall
return to you, and you ivill Tinoiv my
voice and he comforted.'
Cassandra read with trembling emotion.
The words were her own, written years
ago, and she had forgotten them. But
they were true for her still, and they
brought back the temper that inspired
them. She had invoked the past that
she might warm herself at its dead hopes
and vanished dreams. And the past had
LADY LAURA. 297
answered her, though with another voice
than that which she had craved. Its
answer was not. in the memorials of per-
sonal happiness to which she had eagerly
turned, but here in the little book in
which she had been wont to pour out her
thoughts in days of happier inspiration.
She had laid the book aside as foreign
to the occasion, and an accident had
returned it to her, — such an accident as
the devout of old time called a special
providence, as she called by no name,
but accepted in solemn thankfulness and
dared not disregard.
A moment ago she had bewailed as
barren the happy past and all its mem-
ories. And now her help had come out
of the little book to which that past had
given birth. She felt at once rebuked
and strengthened. The prick of her own
former enthusiasm spurred her to new
effort. She would stagnate no longer.
298 LADY LAURA.
She would break at once the insincere
silence that had paralysed her life. And
to Laura should be her first atonement.
She would write to her now and send the
little book that contained all the best
thoughts of the best period of her life.
And Laura's passage from the faith of
the past to that of the future should be
easier for the roughnesses the way had
had for her.
^ Laura dearest/ she wrote, ' I startled
you the other day with my abrupt con-
fession, and I pained you by my im-
patient answers when you asked about
my faith. Forgive me — I have been so
long silent on all that touches it that
speech is as difficult to me as to those
who have lived on desert islands. And
so probably, if you came to me again, I
should again answer you roughly. But
there was a time when I thought I could
LADY LAURA. 299
speak of these things so as to help the
world to understand them, and then I
wrote my thoughts in the book that
comes with this letter. I doubt now
whether they will ever be given to the
world. Though they are true, they may
not be said with power or beauty enough
.to gain attention from strangers. But to
you, who know me, they may be helpful.
And if they are, they will not have been
written in vain. Eead them, and send
them back to me, and some day tell me
if happiness seems possible by such light
as they give.
' I go to London to-morrow to stay a
foiinight with the Annesleys ; you will
VvTite your news to me, and when I come
back we shall talk it over.
The Annesleys were friends to whom
Cassandi-a paid periodical visits, and she
300 LADY LAURA.
had been glad within the last day or two
to accept an invitation from them that
enabled her to absent herself from Nant-
y-Gwyn in a manner not likely to excite
As Laura read the letter she felt
haunted as she had done once before by
spirits from an uneasy past. But she
found means to lay them, and she studied
the book diligently with grateful feeUngs
towards her cousin.
END OF VOL. U.
HazeU, Watson, and Vijuey, Printers, London and Aylesbury.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS-URBANA
3 0112 041678092